The NCAA has approved a policy to govern athletics participation by transgender athletes who have transitioned to another sex. The new rule, which takes immediate effect, allows a transgender athlete who has transitioned from male to female to participate in women’s sports after one year of hormone treatment that includes female hormones (estrogen) and agents that suppress the effects of male hormones in the body (testosterone blockers). The rule also clarifies that athletes who transition from female to male by taking testosterone are not eligible for women’s sports, but may receive a therapeutic use exception* and be eligible for men’s sports. A transgender athlete who transitions socially but not physically is still eligible for the sport that matches their birth sex. For example, Kye Allums plays women’s basketball for George Washington, even though he goes by “he” as has not undergone any physical transition that involves testosterone.
The NCAA’s new policy incorporates the recommendations of the report issued issued last year by the National Center for Lesbian Rights and the Women’s Sports Foundation. It is receiving praise from advocates for equality and inclusion because it avoids many of the restrictions, such as genital surgery and legal sex change which do not affect athletic ability — both of which are required, in addition to a 2 year period of hormone treatment, by the International Olympic Committee and other sport associations. The policy recognizes that in an educational setting, one in which one’s opportunity to participate is limited to a short period of time, it is important to have requirements that do not go beyond what is necessary to promote equity on the field. There is no medical evidence that shows athletes who have transitioned with hormones compete at an advantage relative when competing in their transitioned sex. Medicine also suggests that it takes one year for physical changes in response to hormone treatment to be complete. Therefore, it makes sense to impose just a one-year requirement for hormone treatment, rather than the two-year period, plus surgery and legal sex change, that IOC requires.
*Therapeutic use exceptions are already granted to male athletes with conditions that result in lower-than-normal amounts of testosterone in their bodies. It is an “exception” because otherwise exogenous testosterone is a banned, performance-enhancing substance.