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Olympics changing trans-athlete policy, will leave inclusion up to individual sports

The IOC will discontinue its current transgender policy after the 2022 Olympics, leaving questions as to what change will look like.

Tokyo 2020 Olympics: Weightlifting
Laurel Hubbard was among the first transgender athletes to compete in an Olympics. The IOC feels its new framework will build a better process for all athletes going forward
Photo by Stanislav Krasilnikov\TASS via Getty Images

The International Olympic Committee announced Tuesday that their 17-year-old policy on transgender and non-binary participation will end effective March 2022, leaving individual sports to determine their own policies.

The thrust of the previous policy, centered mainly around testosterone limits for trans women athletes that international federations adhered to, is replaced by individual federations setting regulations with the IOC acting to provide non-binding guidance.

IOC officials stated this paradigm shift came from research and discussions with officials and athletes, and from findings showing no conclusive proof of different levels of internally produced testosterone as the fulcrum of clear-cut advantage.

“One of the things I think the framework does is move us on from just considering testosterone,” IOC Medical and Scientific Director Richard Budgett said. “It’s perfectly clear now that performance is not proportional to your endogenous, in-built testosterone.”

“What we’re really interested in is the outcome. What this does is change the process of getting that outcome of performance.”

OLY-2018-IOC-RUS-DOPING
IOC Medical and Scientific Director Richard Budgett says the new policy framework will considered actual performances and results in lieu of one rule for every sport
Photo credit should read FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP via Getty Images

Budgett expressed similar sentiments at a meeting on the subject during the Olympics in Tokyo last summer, where the processes which led to Tuesday’s announcement were initially revealed.

Since 2019, the IOC has been in consultation with an unspecified number of cisgender and transgender athletes. The main takeaways for the IOC were that current verification policies put all women competing at risk of having to “prove” their gender, can have serious adverse health impacts, and are unclear in regard to ensuring “fair and meaningful competition.”

In contrast, the new framework will involve guidance centered around 10 principles for decision-making that start at inclusion, and includes areas such as fairness, harm prevention and competitive advantage.

The principles also focus on evidence-based, sport-specific policy using results and competition performances as a prime metric.

2016 Summer Olympics - Day 13
The new framework, in theory, may affect a future situation similar to the continuing situation regarding South African Olympic champion Caster Semenya,
Set Number: SI55 TK1

Such emphasis on results and performance was also noted as a potential safeguard against discriminatory practices such as those World Athletics has been accused of in recent years in regards to issues such as the rulings against South African Olympic champion Caster Semenya, and Namibian silver-medalist sprinter Christine Mboma.

When asked directly about the Semenya case in regard of the new framework however, officials were non-committal in their response.

One IOC official noted that some federations have already begun planning for future world championships and the 2024 Summer Olympics with this framework in mind.

“Many sports have done quite a lot of research,” the Director of the Athletics Department for the IOC Kevah Mehrabi said. “If they feel they have enough to revise or introduce eligibility criterion before 2024 qualifications, fine. If they feel like they need to go through a longer process to get it right, that is also fine. It’s not a black-or-white answer.”

Officials pointed out often that the new framework is a guideline in a larger cooperative process between the IOC and the member sporting governing bodies, but was also described by officials as “non-binding.” For one organization supporting the new initiative, that fact was noted in cautious support.

“As with any set of guidelines, the success of this new framework in ensuring a safe and welcoming environment within the Olympic movement will largely depend on the education and implementation process with national governing bodies, international federations, and other key stakeholders,” Anne Lieberman, Athlete Ally Director of Policy said in a statement. “We hope to continue working closely with the IOC to ensure that the policies and practices governing sport actually include and represent the diversity of people playing sport.”

Alex Schmider, GLAAD associate director of transgender representation and producer of the documentary “Changing The Game,” knows the power of the IOC as an example for other levels of sport and hopes the tenor of their guidance will have a trickle-down effect.

“Sports are for everyone, and fairness in sports means inclusion, belonging and safety for all who want to participate, including transgender, intersex, and nonbinary athletes,” Schmider said. “While these guidelines are intended for the most elite athletes in the world, the International Olympic Committee makes it clear that the same guidelines should apply at every level.”