Olympics scientists can't agree on new regulations for trans athletes competing in women's sports

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The adoption of stricter International Olympic Committee guidelines for trans-identified athletes has been delayed and will likely not be enacted before the start of the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo since scientists have not been able to come to an agreement on the polarizing issue. 

The Guardian reports that a panel of scientists was expected to recommend new guidelines that could have cut in half the permitted level of testosterone in order for biological male athletes who identify as transgender to compete in women’s Olympic events. 

However, sources told the U.K.-based news outlet that the IOC’s draft guidelines have been stalled because of the politically sensitive nature of the debate and failure to reach a consensus. 

A source explained that a draft proposal had “gone around the houses” but stressed that it is unlikely that a consensus could be reached before the Tokyo games. 

IOC’s current guidelines were issued in 2015 and allow trans-identified athletes to compete in women’s sports without having to go through testicle removal surgery. They are allowed to compete so long as their testosterone is kept below a certain level. 

The current IOC guidelines state that trans-identified biologically male athletes must keep their testosterone level in serum below 10 nanomoles per liter for 12 months. 

But according to The Guardian, some experts on the IOC panel believe that reducing the permitted testosterone level to five nanomoles per liter would produce a better compromise when it comes to tackling issues of competitive fairness and inclusion. 

Other scientists on the panel reportedly disagreed with such a proposal.

According to the sources, scientists who opposed the proposal cited recent findings from the Karolinska Institute in Sweden that suggests testosterone reduction in trans-identified athletes plays little role in reducing overall muscle strength. 

The study’s findings show that the physical advantages of being a biological male still persist, despite going through the process of a "transition," The Guardian adds.  

Another source told the outlet that reaching an agreement on the panel “proved far more difficult than expected because this is such a tricky political and emotive issue.”

Across the globe, there has been much contention surrounding various organizations’ policies permitting biological boys and men who identify as transgender to compete in female sports. 

Steve McConkey of 4 Winds Christian Athletics voiced disappointment that the IOC will still allow biological male trans-identified athletes to compete in women’s sports. 

“We have been fighting against transgenders in the Olympics since 2003,” McConkey wrote in an email newsletter. “Athletes are starting to stand up, but no decision yet. Our advice on the unfair advantages of transgenders is starting to take effect.”

A number of athletes have voiced concerns that policies allowing trans-identified athletes to compete in women's sports creates a severe disadvantage for biological females. 

Three girls who run high school track in Connecticut filed a complaint with the federal government earlier this year over a Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference policy allowing boys who identify as transgender to compete in girls' high school sports.

The girls missed the cut to qualify for the New England regionals — an event attended by college scouts — after two biological male participants finished first and second in a qualifying event. 

In August, the Department of Education announced it would investigate the complaint.

Earlier this year, USA Powerlifting defended itself after barring a biologically male trans-identified athlete from competing in a women’s athletic event in Minnesota. 

Minnesota Democrat Rep. Ilhan Omar sent a demand letter challenging the lifting federation’s policy banning biological men from competing in women’s competitions. Omar claimed that such a policy violates the Minnesota Human Rights Act, which protects on the basis of gender identity. 

In a statement, USA Powerlifting explained that it is a national affiliate of the International Powerlifting Federation and follows the policies defined by the IPF Medical Committee. 

“Through analysis the impact of maturation in the presence naturally occurring androgens as the level necessary for male development, significant advantages are had, including but not limited to increased body and muscle mass, bone density, bone structure, and connective tissue,” the statement asserts. “These advantages are not eliminated by reduction of serum androgens such as testosterone yielding a potential advantage in strength sports such as powerlifting.”

Former Olympic swimmer Sharron Davies took to social media earlier this year to argue that “a woman with female biology cannot compete” when biological males are allowed to compete in the same competition. 

“[I]t’s a pointless unfair playing field,” she tweeted in April. 

In March, the 1980 silver medalist argued that “there is a fundamental difference between the binary sex u r born with & the gender u may identify as.”

“To protect women’s sport those with a male sex advantage should not be able 2 compete in women’s sport,” she wrote on Twitter.

Former Olympic gold medalist Kelly Holmes suggested on Twitter that it might be better to have a “trans category” or “trans games” rather than allowing them to compete in women’s events.  

A survey of 15 female British Olympians found that 11 feel that “it can never be fair for transgender athletes who have been through male puberty to compete in female sport,” The Guardian reported earlier this summer.  

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