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Transsexual athletes OK for Athens

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(CNN) -- Transsexuals will be allowed to compete in the Olympics for the first time in a ruling that will go into effect at this year's games in Athens.

The ruling was approved on Monday by the board of the International Olympic Committee and covers both male-to-female and female-to-male cases.

IOC Medical Commission Chairman Arne Ljungqvist said that until now cases of gender change in Olympic sports have been rare and have been dealt with individually by the applicable sports federation.

But the number of individuals undergoing sex-change operations has risen, as have the patients' potential impact on sports, he said in a written statement.

"Although individuals who undergo sex reassignment usually have personal problems that make sports competition an unlikely activity for them, there are some for whom participation in sport is important," he said.

In 1990, a seminar convened by the International Association of Athletics Federations recommended that any person who had undergone sex change before puberty should be accepted to participate under their new gender.

But the classification of those people who underwent the operation after puberty was more problematic, since they had been influenced during puberty by hormones under their former gender.

In particular, male puberty affects the level of testosterone, which could, theoretically, affect performance even after a male-to-female sex change, he said.

The IOC advisory group recommended that individuals undergoing sex reassignment after puberty could compete, but only under certain conditions.

  • Surgical changes must have been completed, including external genitalia changes and removal of gonads.
  • Legal recognition of their assigned sex must have been conferred by appropriate official authorities.
  • Hormone therapy -- for the assigned sex -- must have been given for long enough to minimize any gender-related advantages in sport competitions, a period that must be at least two years after gonadectomy.
  • The IOC's evaluation began after it become apparent that case-by-case evaluations were insufficient, Ljungqvist said.

    The policy won restrained applause from Jamison Green, a member of the board of directors of the Transgender Law and Policy Institute, a New York-based advocacy organization.

    "Generally, I think it's a pretty good piece of policy," said Green, who said he was born with a female body, "but I am definitely a man."

    But he criticized the requirement that genital reconstruction be completed before a transgender is eligible to compete in the Olympics.

    "I don't think that needs to be a criteria," said the advocate, whose book about the female-to-male transformation, "Becoming a Visible Man," was published by Vanderbilt Press.

    "Many female-to-male people can't afford to have genital reconstruction, so I think that's an unreasonable penalty."

    No group tracks the number of transgender operations per year and, as a result, there are no reliable data, he said.

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