A Canadian cyclist takes the International Olympic Committee (ICO) to court and a trans American triathlete runs a world championship for the first time ever. Even though ICO and federations are making it difficult, trans and intersexual athletes are changing the understanding of gender in competitions and sports itself. And the Olympic Games are just about to begin
Just imagine that we ask Michael Phelps, one of the best swimmers in the world, to shorten his arms to make it equal to the rest of athletes, or that we tell Usain Bolt to shorten his tendon so that the nature of his body will not mean an advantage over his rivals. Both cases are focused on two icons of man sports, which makes it kind of a nonsense, right? That is exactly what the mainly organizations of sports -ICO and international federations of every discipline- do: excluding athletes who have high testosterone levels which are natural produced by intersexual athletes or bodies with hyperandrogenism, alleging that it means an insult.
Amateur and professional sport is still making it difficult for women with different kind of intersexuality and transexuality. ICO force them to fit on gender binary ideas -man or woman- and denies any scientific reason which shows that the nature is more than just XX oy XY. Therefore, by using sex tests, sport organizations create the Olympics just for cisgender athletes, those who fit ther bodies to the social ideas.
Nowadays, ICO and internacional federations of every discipline establish rules which, as an answer against repression, were opening the access to sport, taking always into account their own ruling bodies: WADA and CAS. It was not until 2003, in all the olympism history, when these organizations began to concrete measures for transgender people, and it was 2010 when there were rules for eligibility for intersexual and women with hyperandrogenism. All those measures rule, manily, the possibility to compete for women comparing the level of testosterone their bodies produce, assuming the notion that the higher the rate is, the better they perform.
The story of COI searching for the lost feminity
The problem began when in the 60’s there were cases of women doped with testosterone, as Heidi Krieger (retired from sport and reassigned as Andreas Krieger). From that moment, ICO started to verify the sex of women by their genitals. After a protest, ICO continued their sex tests, but this time focusing in chromosomes to fit their social theories: you could be XX or XY…
…Until María José Patiño showed up. Their records were put off in the 80’s because of her sex test, which showed that she has XY chromosomes. Her androgen insensitivity syndrome explained the reason why her body had developed external features related to the feminine, even though her genitals were intersex and she had been socialised as a woman. She finally obtained the recognisition she deserved, but it came late to keep her body competitive. As a paradox, ICO called to name her as a part of its scientific commission.
After all this chaos, ICO decided to cancel sex tests because they had a lack of scientific validation in the end of 90s, and in 2003 ICO established Stockholm Consensus to let trans people access to sports, maybe something easier to handle for the organization. Of course, there were some requirements: surgery, homone therapy if the person was reassigned before puberty and legal recognition in their country of origin. Nevertheless, trans man, could compete without restrictions. Nowadays, not a single trans athlete has ever participated in the Olympic Games, and there was just one case, Chris Mosier, who has competed in a World championship.
Six years later, in 2009, a sprinter won a gold medal in a championship in Berlin agains the critics about her figure, judged as “masculine”. The reality against an extreme ruling compared to the human nature. Caster Semenya -we have talked about her case in Pikara Magazine- was the key for the International Association of Athletics Federation (IAAF). After her case the association published in 2011 and 2012 her regulations governing eligibility of females with hyperandrogenism and for trans athletes.
We Hill see Caster Semenya in this Olympic Games. Dutee Chand, the Indian sprinter, will be there too, because she got a resolution from CAS to compete until it was not demonstrated that ger hyperandrogenism added a better performing, an advantaged averaged in a 1%-3% level over a women who is in the rate of ICO -3-9’5 nanomol per litre of blood, and for males, 30-120 nanomol/litre-. This resolution was included in the latest ICO consensus about sex reassignment and hyperandrogenism, and they have stablished a deadline in 2017 to conclude if it is legal or not. In the beginning of 2016, this consensus erase the surgery requirement for genitals, as if a penis or a clitoris was determining for performing in sports.
All that has been exposed determines that ICO and international federations insist on an social ideology over a tested scientific theory. Many competitions are not equal if they are classified in men and women, because there are XY women with sexual differences compared to the social concept, or trans women or trans men who got the hormone therapy but not the surgery; just for saying examples which confront ICO’s ideas about the different bodies.
They are focusing on testosterone, the essential hormone for the muscles to work properly and naturally produced by men or women of any condition. Experts on ethics of sports as Claudio Tamburrini propose the creation of rankings based on levels of testosterone, just the way it is in boxing, where the weight determines the rank where you compete.
Researchers from the Area of research on theory and pedagogy of sports in the University of Valencia (UTPAFIDE) see with no doubt that there is discrimination against the women who is out of the social established parameters. At the same time, they take into account that since the 50’s, “by the time more women were sex tested, there were more tolerance about doping”. The thing is that, nowadays, while women are tested on their testosterone level, men aren’t.
Changing the idea of gender to change the world of sport
These repressive measures have cut many careers short, and it has not been on the media’s covers. Kristen Worley, professional cyclist, has suffered these situations, and is on court against the ICO and the Tribunal of Human Rights in Canada, demanding that the rules made her go through hormone therapy and surgery, and because of that, it has not only affected her career, but also her entire life because of the lack of hormones that her body has. “My muscles suffer because they do not get the hormones they need, so they become atrohpied”, she explains.
It is the first case ICO has to answer out of the CAS, its institution to resolve all questions related to its rules. The Tribunal is expected to answer all the demanding, and Worley considers it as “something that will not only involve how we see gender in sport, but also sport itself”. Stockholm consensus in 2003 arrived to late for her to compete in the Olympic Games in 2004, and when she tried to reach the records for the Games in 2008 her body began to get sick. “I take ICO to the court because we need to stop the ignorance, a XX body can compete as a XY body; we need to promote education and stop the harm that has been done during these years”. ICO is not very agile in absorbing social changes, because it did not let women compete in marathon until 1984, and in Olympic boxing, until 2012.
Worley is an activist for diverse sexual bodies. She has supported Caster Semenya and Dutee Chand as founder of Coalition of athletes for inclusion in sport. Promoting a lobby has been also a measure for Chris Mosier, head of the greatest worldwide platform for including LGTB people in sports, GO! Athletes. The one and only transsexual who has participated in a world championship after the new rulings in 2016 -a duathlon in Spain- representing his country, the USA, admits that transsexual women “suffer more discrimination, because transsexual men are not seen as a threaten when we are in a man competition, because it is thought that we cannot perform the same way or even better”. He adds, in the way Worleys says so, that “if we want to avoid discrimination, we need to reevaluate the factors that make athletes successful, because hormones have a great impact on that, but they are not the only thing: we havbe technique, other habilities…”
Mosier is also a coach and promoter of trans athletes on his platform Trans*Athlete, where he shows trans people, especially in the time of scholarhip, the possibility to access to sport and even compete. “Trans people have to face many barriers to participate, including aspects such as lockers, facilities, bathrooms or even the uniforms. In a professional level you need to deal with sponsors to get economic support”. In spite of these facts, he concludes that he expects to see an Olympic trans athlete in his whole life.
May I play? Diverse sport from the basis
To get to the Olympic Games you need to start at a very young age and in a system that allows you to perform at your best. From UTPAFIDE research, trans people need greater measures to make them exercise, and after analyzing trans athlete profiles they concluded that they use to play activities on their own “which do not involve facilities, such as running or cycling”. There are notable exceptions. There is Antía fernández, first trans woman in Spain to compete in an Olympic sport -volleyball- and Izaro Antxia, first trans woman to play indoor soccer in Spain. These historical facts have happened just seven and three months ago.
They both made her own way to find more questions to a simple question: May I play? Antia tried with a rugby team, but the rules did not allow her to compete because of her gender identity, and she also tried with a cycling team, where she was told that even if the rules could let her ride, her anatomy would make her use a man bike and, because of that reason, she would compete in that rank. In another attempt, she went to the sport schools in A Coruña, but she was only offered maintenance sport for her age -she was almost 40-… Until she fot to Calasancias Coruña volleyball club, which plays in Second Division in the region of Galicia. Her debut was in the beginning of 2016, and she only needed her identity pass to compete. “I am told to make history, but I just consider myself as a trans woman who wants to paly volleyball, a dream that was on my mind since the highschool times”, she says.
Izaro Antxia, indoor soccer player, got past a long way to play her first game in the team Leoia Maia. “Nobody knew a thing and everybody was putting the question into another institution; that situation affected me quite a lot”, she remembers. She demands that trans people do not play sports to avoid being visible and being criticized, “especially trans women, because we are thought to have physical advantage over women and that is false: hormone therapy equals the levels of testosterone and considering physical shape, I have seen many players bigger than me”. Izaro and Antía had the support of the Association of Galician women athletes, the Association of volleyball players and the LGTB Association in País Vasco, but they conclude that institutions need to put the necessary tools to include diverse bodies in sport.
Navratilova, tennis player, said that “the ball did not know if I am a man or a woman, if I come from a communist country or not. Sport has always broken those barriers”. If we consider these amateur and professional cases, ICO must decide whether it will debate and help including trans and intersexual people or if it will keep banning with the support of social prejudices”.