Transsexual Athletes Allowed to Compete in Olympic Games Summary

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

Through a change in policy, the International Olympic Committee permitted transsexual athletes to compete in the Olympic Games. The athletes can compete only if they have had gender reassignment surgery and at least two years of hormone therapy.

Summary of Event

On May 17, 2004, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) Olympic Committee, International convened in Athens and voted to allow transsexual athletes to compete in the Olympic Games, and to do so as transsexuals. The new policy took effect immediately, enabling eligible male-to-female (MTF) and female-to-male (FTM) transsexuals to compete in the 2004 Summer Olympic Games; however, none were reported to have done so. [kw]Transsexual Athletes Allowed to Compete in Olympic Games (May 17, 2004) [kw]Athletes Allowed to Compete in Olympic Games, Transsexual (May 17, 2004) [kw]Olympic Games, Transsexual Athletes Allowed to Compete in (May 17, 2004) Olympic Committee, International;and transsexual athletes[transsexual athletes] Transgender/transsexual athletes[transgender transsexual];and Olympic Games[Olympic Games] Sports;transsexual Olympic athletes Athletes;transsexual [c]Transgender/transsexuality;May 17, 2004: Transsexual Athletes Allowed to Compete in Olympic Games[2770] [c]Sports;May 17, 2004: Transsexual Athletes Allowed to Compete in Olympic Games[2770] [c]Organizations and institutions;May 17, 2004: Transsexual Athletes Allowed to Compete in Olympic Games[2770] Bagger, Mianne Dumaresq, Michelle Klobukowska, Ewa Libman, Alyn Richards, Renee Walsh, Stella

The IOC decision came after lengthy consideration of the issue in consultation with medical experts. The new ruling stipulated that to be able to compete as a member of one’s reassigned gender, the athlete must have undergone legally recognized gender reassignment (usually involving genital reconstructive surgery), and also must have had at least two years of hormone therapy after surgery.

The IOC ruling followed an attempt to settle a long history of controversy surrounding gender requirements for athletic competition. Gold medalist Stella Walsh, Athletes;Stella Walsh[Walsh] a Polish-born sprinter who competed in the 1932 Olympic Games in Los Angeles, was discovered, after her accidental shooting death in 1980, to have been born anatomically male. Through the years, other athletes were suspected of fooling officials by participating as women in order to gain an unfair advantage. In 1964, the IOC began conducting gender verification tests designed to eliminate men from women’s competitions. However, chromosome tests resulted in the unfair disqualification of some female athletes who were born without standard sex chromosomes. Ewa Klobukowska, Athletes;Ewa Klobukowska[Klobukowska] also a Polish sprinter, was the first woman-born-female to fail the gender verification test. She was disqualified from competing in the 1968 Games in Mexico City, Mexico. Thirteen more female athletes had been disqualified between 1972 and 1984, before the test was discontinued in 1999, and prior to the start of the 2000 Games in Sydney, Australia.

Transsexual athletes worldwide applauded the IOC decision, including Australian golfer Mianne Bagger, Athletes;Mianne Bagger[Bagger] Canadian mountain biker Michelle Dumaresq, Athletes;Michelle Dumaresq[Dumaresq] and American figure skater Alyn Libman. Athletes;Alyn Libman[Libman] One surprising voice of dissent came from Renee Richards, Athletes;Renee Richards[Richards] who made headlines in 1977 by winning a court battle against the United States Tennis Association in order to play in the Women’s Open after her gender was reassigned in 1975 from being a man to being a woman. Richards, also an ophthalmologist, argued that hormone therapy for transsexual athletes is similar to the steroid use banned for nontranssexual Olympians. The IOC decision “defies fairness,” she said, because it works against previous attempts to keep a level playing field in athletic competition.


The IOC ruling was a landmark decision for transgender civil rights, given the difficulty faced by transgender people in gender-segregated environments such as athletic competitions. The question of fairness in athletic competition is central to the controversy over transsexual athletes, whose bodies are inevitably shaped to some degree by their original exposure to the hormones associated with their birth sex. Critics of the IOC policy maintain that to allow transsexuals to compete after hormone therapy contradicts the strict antidoping rules for Olympic athletes. The IOC has maintained that the new gender policy does not interfere with the ban on illegal drugs because transsexual athletes will be tested for normal hormone levels, as will all other athletes.

Most of the discussion about transsexual athletes has been focused on MTF competitors and whether having been male would give unfair advantage to a transsexual woman competing against a nontranssexual woman. There has been no comparable argument made about FTM athletes competing as men. For example, the stipulation calling for both gender reassignment surgery and two subsequent years of hormone therapy as a prerequisite for transsexuals to enter Olympic competition is designed to ensure that a sufficient period of time has elapsed to neutralize the prior effects of testosterone on the MTF transsexual body. Until their testes are removed, transsexual women may have elevated levels of testosterone, even if they are taking estrogen as hormone therapy. IOC officials argue that an elevated testosterone level could provide them with an unfair advantage against nontranssexual women.

However, transgender advocates have argued that the IOC requirement of genital surgery is not fair to FTM transsexuals because sex hormones are not involved in the construction of a penis and such surgeries are costly and often ineffective. FTMs argue that regulating gender requirements in sport cannot level the playing field in any case, because body types vary considerably, even within the categories “man” and “woman.”

The debate surrounding transsexuals in sport, and the biological effects of gender reassignment for athletes, will continue until there is systematic research on the effects of gender reassignment and hormone therapy on athletic performance. The IOC ruling will likely have an effect on other professional sports organizations and their policies regarding transsexual athletes. Olympic Committee, International;and transsexual athletes[transsexual athletes] Transgender/transsexual athletes[transgender transsexual];and Olympic Games[Olympic Games] Sports;transsexual Olympic athletes Athletes;transsexual

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">“IOC to Allow Transsexual Athletes in Olympics.” Sports http://sportsillustrated sexual .ap/.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Letellier, Patrick. “Olympics to Let Transsexuals Compete.” PlanetOut Network. http://www
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Mackay, Duncan. “Transsexual Fears After New Olympic Ruling.” Guardian Unlimited.,,1222411,00.html.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Marech, Rona. “Olympics’ Transgender Quandary: Debate Rages on the Fairness of New Inclusion Rule.” San Francisco Chronicle, June 14, 2004, p. A1.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Richards, Renee, with John Ames. Second Serve: The Renee Richards Story. New York: Stein & Day, 1983.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Teetzel, Sarah. “On Transgendered Athletes, Fairness, and Doping: An International Challenge.” Sport in Society 9, no. 2 (2006): 227-251.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Wilson, J. D. “Sex Testing in International Athletics.” Journal of the American Medical Association 267, no. 6 (1992).

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