- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 16, 2003

When the International Olympic Committee announced Thursday that athletes who have undergone sex-change operations will be eligible to compete in the Olympics for the first time, two words immediately crossed my mind: Richard Raskind.

Raskind, the Yale grad, U.S. Naval officer and prominent ophthalmologist was a man in the photo of the 1959 graduating class at the University of Rochester Medical School. It was a picture I passed a million times during my four years of undergrad studies there.

But you may know him better as Renee Richards, the world’s most famous transsexual athlete who challenged the tennis establishment and won.

Now, in the name of sexual equality, the IOC is putting itself in the middle of one of the most basic questions of humanity: What makes a man a man and a woman a woman?

The issue will prove to be a nightmare for the IOC, which for decades grappled with the sexuality controversy and will deal with it long into the future.

“We will have no discrimination,” IOC medical director Patrick Schamasch told the Associated Press. “The IOC will respect human rights.”

But is the IOC’s new policy going to be fair to female participants who now have to compete against former males, much like Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova faced with Renee Richards?

“The eligibility of transsexuals to participate needs to be clarified and dealt with,” said IOC medical commission chairman Arne Ljungqvist, who called a meeting of medical experts last month in Stockholm to discuss gender equality.

What is clear is men have higher levels of testosterone and greater muscle-to-fat ratio and heart and lung capacity than women. However, medical experts assert that a male-to-female gender-crosser takes heavy doses of female hormones, which reduce muscle mass.

But how much residual advantage to her genetic maleness remains and for how long?

These details still are being worked out by the IOC’s medical geniuses. They will determine the length of time that must pass after a sex-change procedure before the transsexual athlete is eligible for Olympic competition.

The issue is quite complicated.

Again, what defines a male, and what defines a female? Is it the genitalia with which you are born? Is it your chromosomes? Is it the M or F on your driver’s license or birth certificate?

Consider this: Polish sprinter Stalislawa Walasiewicz won the women’s 100 meters at the 1932 Olympic Games and set 11 world records. But it wasn’t until she moved to Cleveland and was innocently caught in the crossfire of a robbery attempt and shot dead in 1980 that an autopsy revealed she owned male sexual organs.

At the 1966 European Athletics Championships in Budapest, sex testing began, and women competitors were required to disrobe so the medical staff could determine, from their genitals, whether they were indeed women. Of course, many women found this offensive.

But sex reassignment surgery — which changes the genital organs from one sex to another to match the pre-birth sexual orientation of the brain — has muddied those waters, too. Renee Richards, after a 1975 operation at age 41, would pass the visual test as a woman, but she still has the X and Y chromosome of a man, not the double X of a woman.

That was the contention of the U.S. Tennis Association, which denied the intimidating 6-foot-tall Richards entry into the 1976 U.S. Open after a reporter exposed her as a former men’s amateur tennis champion who had played in several women’s tournaments.

Since gender reassignment surgery cannot change a person’s genetic makeup, Richards could not pass an Olympic-style chromosome test, which the USTA required.

Think about this. By next summer, I should be running the 800 meters in around two minutes. For an old male with limited talent, I’m no big deal. But as a female, I could make the 2004 U.S. Olympic team. How much slower would the hormone therapy make me?

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Manage Newsletters

Copyright © 2021 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide