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International Olympic Committee medical director: ‘Threat’ of trans athletes has ‘probably been overstated’

"You have got to include all women if you possibly can," says the IOC's medical and science director, Dr. Richard Budgett.

By Alastair James

Words: Will Stroude; picture: Pixabay (right)

One of the International Olympic Committee’s (IOC) most senior medical figures says the so-called “threat” of trans women competing at the Olympic Games has “probably been overstated”.

The IOC’s Medical and Scientific Director Dr. Richard Budgett, has reportedly said that while the IOC believed that the rules governing the inclusion of trans athletes needed updating – and that a new framework could be expected within two months – the “important thing to remember is that trans women are women”.

“You have got to include all women if you possibly can”

The Guardian reports that Dr Budgett – himself a former Olympic rower who won gold in coxed four the 1984 Games in Los Angeles – has said new guidelines would focus on safety and fairness in sport, while maintaining that inclusion is also important.

His comments came just days before New Zealand weightlifter Laurel Hubbard was set to become the first trans woman to compete at an Olympic Games on Monday (2 August).

Hubbard’s inclusion in the Olympics in the women’s weightlifting 87Kg category was announced in June and is allowed due to a change in the IOC’s guidelines in 2015, which stipulated that athletes with testosterone levels below 10 nanomoles per litre for 12 months were allowed to compete.

Hubbard met this criterion, with New Zealand Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, stating that “all parties have simply followed the rules.” 

Despite this, Hubbard’s inclusion has been contested, with many arguing that it’s unfair to allow someone who has gone through male puberty to compete in a women’s category. 

On Friday (30 July) Dr Budgett said that rules might need to be updated, but that safety and fairness had to be balanced with the sporting principle of inclusion.

“At the time the 10 nanomoles per litre was set because we thought that was the lower level for men”, Dr Budgett said. “We know now that they go down to seven and women can be higher as well. Agreeing on another number is almost impossible and possibly irrelevant. You can debate that endlessly.”

The former chief medical officer for London 2021 suggested that it would be up to individual sports to set their own rules, explaining: “If you don’t want to take any risks at all that anyone might have an advantage, then you just stop everybody.

“If you are prepared to extrapolate from the evidence there is, and consider the fact there have been no openly transgender women at the top level until now, I think the threat to women’s sport has probably been overstated.”

He added: “The other important thing to remember is that trans women are women. You have got to include all women if you possibly can.”