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Discrimination against transgender people in sport

The so-called 'Olympic Charter', the codification of the fundamental principles of sport adopted by the International Olympic Committee in July 2020[1], states that 'the practice of sport is a human right', which is protected and guaranteed against all forms of discrimination, whether it be based on race, skin colour, sex, sexual orientation, language, religion, political opinions, etc.

However, there have recently been several episodes relating to transgender people taking part in competitive sporting activities, which border on discrimination.

The most significant disappointment concerns a particular aspect, referring specifically to women's competitions: the physical superiority resulting from the biological nature of the male sex would mean that the person would find himself competing with other female athletes in a position of physical advantage.

On this point, the International Olympic Committee, in 2016, admitted the possibility for transgender people to compete according to the gender with which they best identify, imposing, however, strict controls on testosterone levels: in particular, it will be possible to compete in women's competitions if, for a period of one year, testosterone levels do not exceed 10 nanomoles per litre[2]; without prejudice to the prohibition of further sex changes for a period of four years.

It should be pointed out that these limits, which are sometimes even stricter, are also imposed in the case of intersex women, i.e. those who, due to an inherent genetic predisposition, produce a greater quantity of testosterone; in these cases, in fact, the permitted level of testosterone is 5 nanomoles per litre[3].

The most famous case is that of Caster Semenya, the South African Olympic champion, who was often criticised for her excessively masculine appearance due to an overproduction of testosterone. The International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) had imposed medication on her to reduce her testosterone level, but Semenya considered this to be highly discriminatory and appealed to the Court of Arbitration for Sport in Lausanne, which rejected her appeal[4]. The matter came before the United Nations Human Rights Committee which, in March 2019, expressed concerns about discriminatory regulations imposing drug treatment on female athletes with differences in the production of testosterone levels. [5]

However, this does not apply in the reverse case of male-to-female transitions: in all these cases, according to the IOC, there is no need to impose biological standards as men retain the physical characteristics of their gender.

While the concerns about the participation of transgender athletes in women's competitions are understandable, it should be noted that not all sports have an advantage in terms of physical superiority.

In addition, it should be noted that the records set in Olympic athletics competitions differ depending on whether the athlete is male or female: in the high jump discipline, for example, the female record is 2. 09m (recorded by Stefka Kostadinova in 1987), while the men's record is 2.45m (recorded by Javier Sotomayor in 1993)[7]; these are obviously results obtained at the peak of physical performance, but there is still a certain disparity, probably due to the physical difference.

However, according to the most recent scientific studies, the hormone therapies that transgender people undergo in order to make the transition from the gender attributed at birth to the one they actually belong to, also affect bone density and muscle mass, modifying them[8].

From a legislative point of view, the states have a dual approach to this issue.

In the United States, for example, the rules vary from state to state: if in Massachusetts it is allowed, regardless of gender identity, to train on all sports fields, the same is not true in Idaho, where there is a state law that prohibits women's teams from hiring transgender girls; in all these cases, the athlete can compete on the basis of the sex resulting from the birth certificate[9].

In Spain, the Equal Opportunities Minister Irene Montero has recently announced a proposal to open up sports practices and competitions to transgender women, without imposing any gender verification constraints[10]; the proposal has been strongly opposed by feminist movements, who fear that such an opening up could encourage discrimination against women in sport, who are already underrepresented.

In Italy, in 2019 Valentina Petrillo was the first Italian transgender athlete to take part in the Italian Paralympic athletics championships in Jesolo, winning 3 gold medals[11]; her position had been deemed regular and in line with IOC predictions, as her testosterone levels were below the 10 nanomole threshold[12].

In fact, irrespective of the doubts, legitimate or not, raised on this matter, what is of absolute importance is the need to guarantee transgender people equal rights and equal opportunities of access to sporting competitions, to be limited, if necessary, on the basis of rules provided and adopted by the competent authorities and for the sole purpose of making the competition fair, and therefore to avoid the adoption of obstructive and purely discriminatory behaviours or provisions to the detriment of transgender athletes.

Translated by Francesca Cioffi

Original version by Simona Maria Destro Castaniti


Sources:

[1]Olympic Charter, luglio 2020 (https://stillmedab.olympic.org/media/Document%20Library/OlympicOrg/General/EN-Olympic-Charter.pdf#_ga=2.222360798.477239318.1616428018-1081999978.1616259987);

[2] Montrella S., “La battaglia dei transgender per competere nello sport”, settembre 2020 (https://www.agi.it/estero/news/2020-09-19/usa-ginsburg-diritti-lgtb-transgender-sport-9703174/);

[3] Torbidoni G., “In Spagna le trans potrebbero presto competere nello sport nella categoria del genere registrato”, febbraio 2021(https://europa.today.it/attualita/spagna-sport-genere-registrato.html);

[4] Caruso A., “E’ giusto che le atlete trans gareggino nelle competizioni femminili?”, luglio 2019 (https://thevision.com/attualita/atleti-trans-competizioni/); Il Post, “L’atleta sudafricana Caster Semenya dovrà ridurre il proprio tasso di testosterone per gareggiare”, settembre 2020 (https://www.ilpost.it/2020/09/08/caster-semenya-perso-ricorso-testosterone/);

[5] UN General Assembly, Human Rights Council, A/HRC/40/L.10/Rev.1, 20 marzo 2019 (https://undocs.org/A/HRC/40/L.10/Rev.1);

[6] Torbidoni G., “In Spagna le trans potrebbero presto competere nello sport nella categoria del genere registrato”, febbraio 2021(https://europa.today.it/attualita/spagna-sport-genere-registrato.html);

[7] https://www.worldathletics.org/records/by-discipline/jumps/high-jump/outdoor/men; https://www.worldathletics.org/records/by-discipline/jumps/high-jump/outdoor/women

[8] Caruso A., “E’ giusto che le atlete trans gareggino nelle competizioni femminili?”, luglio 2019 (https://thevision.com/attualita/atleti-trans-competizioni/);

[9] Montrella S., “La battaglia dei transgender per competere nello sport”, settembre 2020 (https://www.agi.it/estero/news/2020-09-19/usa-ginsburg-diritti-lgtb-transgender-sport-9703174/);

[10] Torbidoni G., “In Spagna le trans potrebbero presto competere nello sport nella categoria del genere registrato”, febbraio 2021(https://europa.today.it/attualita/spagna-sport-genere-registrato.html);

[11] Montrella S., “La battaglia dei transgender per competere nello sport”, settembre 2020 (https://www.agi.it/estero/news/2020-09-19/usa-ginsburg-diritti-lgtb-transgender-sport-9703174/);

[12] La Gazzetta dello Sport, “Paralimpici: Valentina Petrillo. È lei la prima transgender ammessa a gara ufficiale tra le donne”, settembre 2020, (https://www.gazzetta.it/Paralimpici/09-09-2020/paralimpici-valentina-petrillo-prima-transgender-ammessa-gara-ufficiale-le-donne-3801817096851.shtml);

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  • L'Autore

    Simona Maria Destro Castaniti

    Laureata in Giurisprudenza.
    Competenze in Diritto Penale: Praticante Avvocato e Tirocinante presso l’Ufficio del GIP.
    Competenze in Diritto Internazionale: Tesi di Laurea in Diritti Umani, partecipazione a diversi progetti MUN, esperienze all’estero (in particolare: Kosovo, Costa Rica, Stati Uniti d’America).
    Autrice per diverse riviste su temi di diritto.
    Attualmente iscritta al secondo anno del corso di laurea magistrale in Relazioni Internazionali.
    Competenza linguistica in lingua Italiana (madrelingua), Inglese (C2), Spagnola (B1) e Portoghese (B1).


    Law Graduate
    Criminal Law: Trainee Lawyer and Intern at the Office of the Judge for the Preliminary Inquiries.
    International Law: Dissertation on Human Rights, participation at MUNs projects, experiences abroad (in particular: Kosovo, Costa Rica, USA).
    Author for several periodicals on the topic of law.
    Currently enrolled at the 2° year of the Master's Degree Course in International Relations.
    Linguistic Competence in Italian (mother tongue), English (C2), Spanish (B1) and Portuguese (B1).

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From the World Europe Sections Human Rights Society Law Reduce inequalities


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#sport #discrimination #transgender #lgbt #attivitàsportiva #cio #olimpiadi

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