The debate of the century in sports: who can compete in the female category?


The weightlifter Laurel Hubbard, the first transsexual athlete to participate in the Olympic Games.

The weightlifter Laurel Hubbard, the first transsexual athlete to participate in the Olympic Games.
REUTERS

One of the main challenges of world sport For the next decades, it consists in solving the lack of equivalence between the multiple sexual and gender identities that coexist in Humanity and the existence of only two competitive compartments: the feminine and the masculine. It is actually a problem that has always existed, as it is rooted in human nature itself, only not too long ago Western societies still lacked sufficient maturity to place this lack of correlation in the foreground of sports policy. The debate, in short, is the child of its time and requires already in 2021 a position of preponderance in the list of priorities of the international sports community, as published this Monday The newspaper of Spain.

Who can compete in the female category? The truism answer (women) does not work or at least it is not enough by itself. Among many other factors, because the same person can be accepted as a woman in some countries and rejected as such in others. Not even being born a woman biologically works in all cases, not at least in practice, as the case of the athlete demonstrates Caster Semenya, born a woman but whose high natural level of testosterone keeps her out of competition by the International Athletics Federation, with the support of the Court of Arbitration for Sport, pending the ruling of the Court of Strasbourg.

Testosterone

That factor, the concentration of testosterone in the blood, had been established in recent years as a valid method to establish the border between the male and female category, beyond the sex of birth or the sexual identity that each athlete feels as their own. However the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has decided in the last week to turn the course it had set so far, eliminating references to testosterone as a valid benchmark in its new framework document on inclusion and non-discrimination based on gender identity or sexual diversity. Giving, in short, the reason to Semenya.

South African athlete Caster Semenya. REUTERS


“It is one of the most important decisions for women’s sport in recent times,” she says. Maria Jose Martinez Patiño, a doctor professor at the University of Vigo and a former intersex athlete, who has also collaborated in the drafting of the new IOC document. This framework, however, lacks the status of law within sport and each federation will apply the criteria it deems appropriate within the legality to which it must submit. The weightlifting, for example, allowed competing in Tokyo to Laurel hubbard, the first transsexual Olympian in history. Athletics, which is written, does not allow Semenya and other athletes born women to compete in a specific range of events.

Advantage “disproportionate”

The challenge for sport is to seek concreteness in the requirement set forth now to limit participation in the female category: whoever enjoys a “consistent, unfair and disproportionate competitive advantage”, whether born male or female. What is a disproportionate advantage? “The philosophy is that the federations do analysis case by case. And in each sport it will be different, because the performance differences between men and women are not the same in all of them. The parameters to be studied are very broad and will depend on each specific casuistry “, point out Olympic sources.

“One of the most relevant points of the report has to do with the preservation of the confidentiality of medical data of all athletes. They have tried to destroy a lot of lives by questioning the sexual and gender identity of athletes and it is something that the IOC is determined to avoid in the future “, remarks Martínez Patiño.

In this sense, the new IOC framework document emphasizes that “athletes should not be never pressured by an international federation, sports organization or other agent to undergo medical treatments or interventions to fit the eligibility criteria. “In other words, the IOC rejects outright the incitement to hitherto tolerated practices such as artificial reduction of the testosterone.

Ethical framework

“Perhaps the most important thing about the manifesto is that it puts the ethical and the legal ahead of the doctors. It is above all an ethical framework for international federations, a warning that not everything goes and that the IOC is determined to lead the full integration of trans and intersex athletes “, emphasizes the researcher from the University of Vigo.

It remains to be seen now how the international federations react to the new guidelines set by the IOC, whose validity will start once the Winter Games of Beijing 2022. Many of them have not yet seen themselves too demanding in terms of sexual or gender diversity, but the growing tolerance around the world will sooner or later force all of them to have to define guidelines. It will surely be the great debate of this century in sport and this IOC document is the first step to reorient it.

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