Activist Recounts Challenging the Olympic Movement

(ATR) Kristen Worley writes about her case against gender testing on human rights grounds.

(ATR) Navigating one’s identity in the world is a lifelong process.

For many, the factors that help determine our identity are external. We look to jobs, relationships, and hobbies for direction in coordination with our internal compasses.

But what happens when internal confusion defines your identity? And what happens when sport, a source of comfort and support throughout your life, suddenly becomes an oppressive actor during a time of seeking stability?

These questions are answered in Kristen Worley’s book "Woman Enough", which tells the story of her gender transition as it intersected with elite sport. Worley trained as an elite cyclist for both the 2008 and 2012 Olympics, being a high performance athlete at various points of her life in different sports.

Worley takes the reader through different fights, which are both fast paced and illuminating. The first is the fight for understanding of her gender identity and search for happiness in the backdrop of being adopted into an abusive family.

The second is the fight to be accepted in elite sport after transitioning under the IOC’s previous policy of gender verification and requiring athletes who have transitioned to undergo sex reassignment surgery.

"The book itself is not about sport, so this was my journey, but sport played a very significant part as it does for a lot of people for different reasons," Worley said to Around the Rings. "Back in those days there was no language [about gender dysphoria] that we have today and let alone the expertise.

"I think, through the processes that I’ve been able to do, is I've been able to create a language, a commonality that allows them to understand the issues and maybe reflect on themselves."

Through the latter half of the book Worley takes the reader through her journey of resuming elite sport after having gone through transition, training for the 2008 and 2012 Olympics, subjecting herself to the IOC’s 2003 policy for athletes who are transgender, and her fight to challenge those policies on human rights grounds.

Worley fought the IOC, World Anti-Doping Agency, UCI, and Cycling Canada at the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal outside of the scope of the sporting world.

Her argument was the IOC’s policy of gender verification violated her human right to compete in sport, and subjected her to an invasive test done by sport officials without a scientific background in the complexities of human gender. Worley details the mediation process she went through with UCI and Cycling Canada, a major win for athletes.

The case eventually led to the IOC to re-evaluate its policy towards athletes that are transgender, which is currently under review. Athletes no longer have to undergo sex reassignment surgery, which is a procedure that sterilizes them, to compete at the Olympics, although they must maintain certain hormone levels to be eligible to compete.

Worley said she hopes the book shows how these policies were developed without scientific basis, and the effects those policies had in robbing her of her athletic career.

The book comes out at a time when renewed conversations are happening about gender and sport, with a landmark case currently being decided by the Court of Arbitration for Sport. Worley says the current conversations are misguided and only will empower sporting officials to craft policies that control certain athletes.

The issue is multi-pronged, with more education about people going through gender transitions needed for the public at large. Also, the conversations about athletes competing in both grassroots and elite sport need to be done under the guise of human rights and participation, rather than to reinforce the notion of a strict gender binary.

Meanwhile, Caster Semenya is waiting on her appeal at CAS about the IAAF’s new testosterone policy, which could force her to take hormone suppressants to compete in the 800m distance she has dominated for years.

Implications of the case are stark. If the IAAF is successful in its policy it could lead to stricter regulations over athlete’s bodies by federations. The IOC is waiting for the decision to help craft its new policy for athletes who have undergone transition. Since the IOC sits the at the top of the Olympic Movement, other international federations are also awaiting guidance from a new IOC policy.

"Under the autonomy [of sport] nations sign on to the Olympic Movement, a contract of 206 nations; so what you’re seeing is you have this autonomy [implementing] these rules to verify athletes that go against civil law [in countries] and also our charter and human rights," Worley said.

"These [rules] coming from a private entity in Switzerland are overriding a country’s legal system to do these things to athletes. This is why I took my case on."

"Woman Enough" is available starting on March 30 from Random House Canada and can be purchased online here.

Written by Aaron Bauer

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