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IOC to fund research of transgender athletes

The International Olympic Committee is calling for researchers to apply for funding of “athlete-centered projects” including trans athletes

Previews - Winter Olympics Day -3
The Olympic Rings are seen during previews ahead of the PyeongChang 2018 Winter Olympic Games in Pyeongchang-gun, South Korea.
Photo by Lars Baron/Getty Images

Amid the growing controversy over transgender inclusion in sports, the International Olympic Committee has issued a call to researchers, offering funding for projects related to trans athletes.

Of course that is just one area of interest for the IOC, as it explained in its call for 2019 Call For Applications post on the official Olympic.org website:

“The IOC, as the leader of the Olympic movement and the sport sector at large, is committed to the protection of athletes’ health particularly through illness and injury prevention.

“In support of this aim, the IOC has committed to fund selected research pertaining to injury and illness prevention. The IOC Medical and Scientific Commission is calling on researchers to apply for support and funding of athlete-centered projects.”

Applications are now being accepted through June 1st, said the IOC. And the amount that the organization is offering to fund medical and scientific research is substantial.

“Multi-center and collaborative projects and research that has the potential to directly benefit Olympic athletes are encouraged. Funding of suitable projects will normally be limited to less than USD $100,000.

“Areas of research eligible for support include injury and illness prevention studies, as well as IOC Consensus Statement topics, such as transgender athletes and mental health.”

Current guidelines adopted by the IOC in 2016 and first reported by Outsports, left no restriction for a trans man, like triathlete Chris Mosier, to compete against men, and removed the need for women to undergo gender-reassignment surgery to compete.

Despite the guidelines, no publicly out trans athlete has competed in the Olympics. Ever.

Of course, there are still restrictions on transgender women who hope to qualify and compete in the Olympic games, as outlined in an IOC memo:

2. Those who transition from male to female are eligible to compete in the

female category under the following conditions:

2.1. The athlete has declared that her gender identity is female. The

declaration cannot be changed, for sporting purposes, for a minimum

of four years.

2.2. The athlete must demonstrate that her total testosterone level in serum

has been below 10 nmol/L for at least 12 months prior to her first

competition (with the requirement for any longer period to be based on

a confidential case-by-case evaluation, considering whether or not 12

months is a sufficient length of time to minimize any advantage in

women’s competition).

In April of 2018, The Times of London reported the IOC was preparing to slash acceptable levels of testosterone in half, from ten to five nanomoles per liter. That was just days after transgender weightlifter Laurel Hubbard competed at the Commonwealth Games in Australia. Despite being favored to dominate the category, the 40-year-old New Zealander was sidelined by a painful injury.

The proposal to change T levels was expected to be taken up by the IOC human rights advisory committee that started meeting in December 2018. Committee president Thomas Bach said the issue of transgender athletes was on its agenda, but three months later, there’s been no word on any change in the guidelines.

Despite lesbian tennis legend Martina Navratilova’s blogpost containing misinformation about this new T level, the IOC has not yet changed to 5nmol/L. It remains under consideration by the IOC. The IAAF did, however, propose exactly that change, specifically in the case of Caster Semenya and women like her; the fairness of that proposal is being decided by the Court for Arbitration for Sport this month.

Transgender cyclist champion, Dr. Rachel McKinnon, published her own research into the issue earlier this month, and has been directly targeted by opponents of trans athletes. She has repeatedly and vociferously engaged Navratilova and British former Olympic swimmer Sharron Davies on this issue, to the point that their Twitter exchanges have made headlines.

One thing people on either side of the transgender inclusion debate can agree on: more conclusive research is necessary.