New rule changes at the International Olympic Committee and the World Out Games are affording new opportunities to transgender athletes in time for major events amid the ongoing Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
Both organizations have loosened the qualifications for transgender athletes to compete, which is what allowed Chris Mosier, a transgender athlete, to compete as part of the men’s U.S. national team in the Sprint Duathlon World Championship in Spain.
Earlier this month in an interview with Rolling Stone, Mosier said changing gender identity wasn’t going to stop him from achieving his goals as an athlete.
“When I think back to growing up as an athlete, every positive thing that I learned about goals, dedication, leadership, and values I learned from playing sports — this was an area of my life where I felt the best about myself,” Mosier is quoted as saying. “That shouldn’t change because a pronoun has changed. I took this on because I think all athletes and all people should have the opportunity to play sports and have a place where they can feel their best about themselves.”
Although neither Mosier nor any openly transgender athlete is participating in the Olympic Games, Mosier gained notoriety by starring in a Nike ad that aired on NBC highlighting his status as a transgender athlete during the event in Brazil.
Prior to Mosier’s challenge of the IOC policy, the organization required gender reassignment surgery and at least two years of hormone therapy for both transgender men and women to compete.
But under the new policy announced in January 2016, female-to-male athletes can take part in the Olympics and other international events “without restriction” or a surgery requirement. Surgery is also no longer required for male-to-female athletes, but they must demonstrate their testosterone level is consistently below a certain cutoff point for at least a year before their first competition.
Ashley Grove, an ambassador for the pro-LGBT group Athlete Ally, said Mosier is the most prominent example being able to compete as a result of the new policy, but maintained he’s likely only the first.
“What we’re going to see is just probably more transgender athletes being able to compete in general,” Grove said. “The surgery requirement for trans people who are not athletes is very difficult and sometimes not wanted. We’re still going to see more trans athletes compete at the Olympic level.”
The Out Games, an international sports event that started after a split from the Gay Games in 2006, adopted a new policy for transgender athletes in August 2015 allowing athletes to register on a self-declaration basis with the gender team consistent with their gender identity.
Although the Out Games seeks identification affirming the gender identity of athletes looking to compete, the organization will accept a letter from a healthcare provider, mental health counselor, an educational institution or a community-based or religious organization in case of transgender athletes who are unable to change the gender markers on their IDs. In the event such documentation isn’t available, the Out Games will accept transgender athletes without ID matching their gender identity on a case-by-case basis.
Grove said the policy established by the Out Games makes the organization “more lenient” for transgender athletes than the International Olympic Committee.
“There’s nothing about hormone testing,” Grove said. “There’s nothing about surgery. It’s pretty much the policy sports groups advocate for, but it’s not as rigid as the IOC’s policy or the NCAA’s policy.”
While no Out Games competition has taken place since the federation adopted the rules in 2015, Grove said she “imagine[s] we’ll see a difference” in the number of transgender athletes at the event in Miami 2017.
Grove said the change at the International Olympic Committee and the Out Games should enable other sports organizations and schools to update their policies to allow transgender athletes to compete.
“We’re pushing for rec leagues to have a change, we’re pushing for international sports leagues to have a change,” Grove said. “I guess for high schools that’s the next biggest institution. We’re going to need to be like real change across the board because we have it now at the Olympic level, we have it now at the collegiate level, we do not see it at the high school level.”