Opinion-Essay: Culture: Athletics:



Transsexuals and the Olympic Games


by Professor Dr. António Gentil Martins FICS, OLY

Present President, Portuguese Olympic Athletes Association

Lisbon, Portugal


The  possibility of male transsexuals participating in the Olympic Games  as females as well as the problem of Hyperandrogenism, are certainly  hot topics now that the Tokyo Olympic Games of 2020 are approaching.


Now the first problem exists as some Countries are allowing the administrative change of sex just through the individual option.


We believe it to be completely unacceptable  the criteria used for the Rio de Janeiro Games, where only the identification card (‘legally’ male or female) was considered.


We also believe that, at present, scientific knowledge is already clear enough to demonstrate that  the criteria suggested by some, of simply lowering the testosterone level to 10nmol/l during one year, should never be enough to allow male transsexuals to compete as females.

To be so called “politically correct” is certainly not the main purpose of Olympism, which is defined as a “Philosophy of Life” combining and excelling in a fair way the qualities of the body, will and spirit, associating sport to culture and education, through effort, excellence, respect and good example.


Some consider that anyone that cheats should be punished with 12 months suspension. We completely disagree because we believe that anyone that tries not to follow the accepted rules or cheats should be excluded for good, if one wants to preserve the Olympic Principles of truth and a fair game.


All our sport successes are conditioned by two main factors: the individual genetic bases, of which one is not responsible and also can not alter ( but also should not restrain anyone if eventually favorable ), and one’s training, effort, dedication and persistence.


A man that has changed his “Administrative” Registration to woman, on no account can ever be considered a true female,  so to have legitimacy to compete in sports as a woman. The main goal is certainly to try to avoid any advantage  over other competitors and not simply to make it more acceptable.


It is nowadays of the most elementary scientific knowledge that man and woman are complementary but also completely different (if that was not true, our world would have not survived…).  It is also well known the enormous variety of congenital malformations of varying severities that unfortunately will never would cease to appear in the human race. One can find rare cases with male (XY) chromosomes coexisting with an insensitivity to androgens (namely testosterone) so their external morphology is entirely female (although that they can not become pregnant). On the other end we can find cases of sexual ambiguity with female chromosomes (XX), but showing an enlarged clitoris suggesting a malformed penis, as can happen in cases of congenital adrenal hyperplasia. And that just not  to mention the very rare cases of true hermaphroditism, in which cases the person shows simultaneously testicles and ovaries.


A change of ‘administrative’ sex before puberty is surely quite different  than the one taking place in late adolescence or adulthood. In the adolescent all the action of the hormones as already taken place, obviously different in the male and the female sex, and it is not the alteration in the ‘administrative’ sex that would change their anatomical and functional reality.  To lower the testosterone level in the adolescent or adult will not alter the size of the bones, of the muscles, of the heart, acquired during infancy and particularly under pre-pubertal development.


Another basic aspect is that the hemoglobin level in man is around 2g/l higher in man than in woman. Considering that, a transsexual is in fact as if the ‘new’ woman had been auto-transfused (with her own blood having been obtained normally one month previously to the sport’s competition), what is considered unacceptable doping.  Auto-transfusion having been considered doping , the same effect was tried with erythropoietin, that was also considering doping.  So a new drug was used and again forbidden.  And now, we just do not know what will come next…


When to win-at-all-cost becomes the rule (the ‘winner’ not necessarily the best but the one who cheats the best), commercialization is preponderant,  (even for the choice of the chosen modalities, to please the media…), when corruption spreads, we initiate the road to auto-destruction, as happened in ancient Greece. The Games considered to have started in 773 B.C. and ended around one thousand years later, under Emperor Theodosius, in 393 A.C. If one maintains the present trend, seeming to have forgotten many of the basic principles of sports (to compete and do one’s best more important than to win, respect, solidarity, fair play, et cetera), revived by Pierre de Coubertin, who initiated the Modern Olympic Games in 1896, one can anticipate that everything can devolve much more rapidly in modern times.


The average level of testosterone in the female is between 1 to 2.5 nmol/l and in the male varies from 9.99 nmol/l to 34.7 nmol/l. The surprising idea of some people, theoretically responsible, that the transsexual just needs to lower his testosterone level below the minimal level for a man, for a year (not even is suggesting what type of control should be done), in order to compete as a woman, is certainly totally unacceptable. But if that wrong idea would prevail, we believe that, at least, the level of testosterone should be below 5nmol/l and not 10.


Speaking now of another problem, that theoretically well prepared people find difficult to solve: the one of Hyperandrogenism.


There is no question that the level of testosterone represents an advantage as far as global physical development. But if it is natural, and not due to an ovarian or adrenal gland tumor (obviously to be treated surgically), one can see no reason to discriminate those athletes, although they are placed at a higher level of natural performance.


Will it be that we all have the same level of intelligence and aptitudes? And is it or not true that not all of us have the same natural conditions to be wonderful musicians or painters, Nobel Prize winners, etc., etc..?  Certainly no one would ever think to discriminate a basketball player for being too tall.


Is it right that the best are precluded to show it? Certainly not. Although we are all different we certainly have to have the same rights.


So the solution of Hyperandrogenism seems quite evident and simple. Considering the possible existence of a significant number of female athletes with a testosterone level superior to the already mentioned 2.5nmol/l, it would be advisable to have two different levels of competition, as it happens, for example, with judo or weight-lifting. So the problem would be solved (and never again will a medal need to be taken away only to subsequently be returned) .


In conclusion: to reduce the differences between man and women just to the level of testosterone, is an incredible and totally unacceptable mistake. The Olympic Principles are incompatible with discrimination. But if it is discrimination to tread differently what his similar it is also discrimination to treat equally what is obviously different. Never should male transsexuals ever be allowed to compete as females in any type of sport, and particularly in the Olympic Games. For Hyperandrogenism, two levels for competition will solve the problem.



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