Restrictions for transgender athletes at the Paris 2024 Olympics. GETTY IMAGES

Transgender athletes face increased restrictions ahead of the Paris 2024 Olympics compared to previous rules, as it was recently decided that they must have completed their transition before the age of 12 to avoid unfair advantages.

Transgender athletes face greater hurdles in qualifying for the upcoming Olympic Games, which will take place in Paris from 26 July to 11 August. It has been mandated that the transition must be completed before the age limit of 12, as doing so after that age could give an advantage over cisgender female competitors. 

It is important to remember that Laurel Hubbard, a weightlifter from New Zealand, was the first openly transgender athlete to compete at the Olympic Games. Three years ago, at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics (held in 2021 due to the Covid-19 pandemic), she made history as the first openly transgender athlete to compete at the Olympics. 

However, her performance in the women's +87kg category was modest. At 43, she was the oldest competitor at the 32nd Olympic Games, and after three unsuccessful lift attempts, her participation was reduced to an abduction that did not last more than 10 minutes. 

Hubbard and other transgender athletes who had previously will not be eligible for the Paris 2024 Games. Restrictions on the participation of transgender athletes have become stricter since the last Olympics, with little to no room for interpretation, according to a report. 

Previously, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) had issued guidelines that allowed any transgender athlete to compete as a woman as long as their testosterone levels were below 10 nanomoles per litre for at least 12 months before their first competition. However, the current requirements have been changed to avoid disadvantaging cisgender women.

New Zealand's Laurel Hubbard at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. GETTY IMAGES
New Zealand's Laurel Hubbard at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. GETTY IMAGES

In March, the World Athletics Council, the governing body of athletics, banned those who passed puberty before transitioning from high-level female competition. This decision was followed in 2022 by FINA (now World Aquatics), the International Swimming Federation, which will only allow trans swimmers who transitioned before the age of 12 to compete. 

The World Athletics Council expressed the "overriding need to protect the female category," according to its president Sebastian Coe, a two-time Olympic champion (1980 and 1984). 

Similar sentiments were expressed by World Aquatics when it adopted its new "Gender Inclusion Policy". "This does not mean encouraging people to transition before the age of 12. It's what scientists say: if you transition after the onset of puberty, you have an advantage, which is unfair," explained James Pearce, spokesman for World Aquatics President Husain Al-Musallam. 

In the same vein, the International Cycling Union (UCI) has introduced safeguards for women's sport by preventing trans women who have reached puberty before transitioning from participating. However, a new "men/open" category has been introduced for those who do not meet the new gender standards. 

Unsurprisingly, transgender athletes, who previously qualified to compete against cisgender female athletes, have not welcomed the new protections for female athletes. It appears that these restrictions are based on the premise of not disadvantaging cisgender women.