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Ever since the International Olympic Committee (IOC) released its revised guidelines on transgender athletes in January 2016, sports governing bodies everywhere have been grappling with the balance of fair play and the sanctity of their sport.
The IOC guidelines were updated to allow biological women to compete as men without restriction, while biological men are eligible to compete as women without first undergoing a sex reassignment surgery upon meeting some strict rules set around testosterone levels.
Some governing bodies are working to adopt the IOC’s policies as their own, while others have yet to even acknowledge it.
In December, we wrote about elite cyclist Jillian Bearden and her work with the IOC and USA Cycling as a testing subject in the process of building transgender policies that allow wider participation within the sport.
The outcome: a two-pronged transgender athlete participation policy that sets clear guidelines for elite and non-elite competition as well recategorization processes.
For amateur racing
Slotted under USA Cycling’s diversity and inclusion policy, the new transgender athlete participation policy allows amateur racers – juniors and those in the category 5, 4, and 3 fields – to self-select.
It’s up to USA Cycling’s discretion, however, to place the athlete in the appropriate racing category based on racing resume, experience, and results. And should grievances arise, a rider’s eligibility in a chosen gender will be determined based on:
- If the athlete’s “everyday life” gender matches his or her racing gender
- If the athlete has obtained civil documents with his or her racing gender identified (i.e. state I.D., driver’s license, birth certificate)
- Attestation of gender identity from a medical professional
- Attestation of gender identity from a certified counselor, public official, school administrator, or other academic advisor
- Compliance with IOC guidelines
“I don’t want this to be a witch hunt. What we are looking for is to strike a balance at the grassroots level to let riders race their bikes in a fair atmosphere with people of like ability,” USA Cycling’s technical director Chuck Hodge told Ella CyclingTips back in December.
“And at the elite level, to make sure that we are meeting the international guidelines while also protecting the athlete and the sanctity of competition.”
For elite competition
For elite racers, USA Cycling has adopted the IOC’s guidelines.
“When you get to [the elite] level, you have the ability to compete in national team selection events, national championships and international racing. The moment you race internationally, the IOC rule is going to kick in and the UCI has indicated that they are going to follow the IOC guidelines,” said Hodge.
Without a policy in place, there was a chance that an athlete could potentially win an elite championship, qualifying for the world championships and yet not be able to compete if he or she did not meet the UCI’s or IOC’s regulations. Adopting the IOC standard prevents any such conflicts.
And so, by IOC standards, guidelines state that biological women can compete as men without restriction, while biological men wishing to compete as women must meet the following criteria:
- The athlete has declared that her gender identity is female. The declaration cannot be changed, for sporting purposes, for a minimum of four years.
- 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).
- The athlete’s total testosterone level in serum must remain below 10 nmol/L throughout the period of desired eligibility to compete in the female category.
- Compliance with these conditions may be monitored by random or for-cause testing. In the event of non-compliance, the athlete’s eligibility for female competition will be suspended for 12 months.
Hodge said that when it comes to testing testosterone levels, USA Cycling will rely on the athletes themselves to provide medical data, which will then be reviewed by an appointed doctor.
To review USA Cycling’s full policy, click here.
For background information, read our story on Jillian Bearden, including her pre- and post-transition power numbers.
For our Australian readers, we are told that Cycling Australia is currently in the process of updating its Member Protection Policy, which will include guidelines regarding transgender athletes. We will follow up as soon as more information is available.