The International Olympic Committee (IOC) on Tuesday introduced a new framework for transgender athletes, which allows trans-identified males to compete in women’s sports without having to undergo testosterone suppression or hormone therapy, raising concerns that some countries might “rig the system.”
In a six-page document, the IOC outlined 10 principles with a stated aim to ensure that “athletes are not excluded solely on the basis of their transgender identity or sex variations.”
It noted that any restrictions that bar trans women from participating in women’s categories should be backed by “robust and peer-reviewed research” that demonstrates that a “consistent, unfair, disproportionate competitive advantage” exists for the particular sport, discipline and event.
Until evidence proves otherwise, trans women athletes should not be presumed of automatic advantage over biological females thus “should be allowed to compete in the category that best aligns with their self-determined gender identity.”
“It’s important we broaden the evidence base,” said Richard Budgett, the IOC’s medical and scientific director. “There is some interesting research that needs to come to conclusion, and that will give us much more information about performance which is the issue which is really key to determining eligibility.”
The sports body has also scrapped the 2015 transgender guidelines stating trans-identified males must have one year of testosterone suppression before being permitted to compete, which has been suggested by American researchers last year as “too short if the aim is a level playing field.”
LGBTQI+ advocates and trans athletes applauded the IOC’s move, with Canadian soccer gold medallist Quinn, who in July became the first openly trans athlete to participate in the Olympics, calling the new framework “groundbreaking.”
“This new IOC framework is groundbreaking in the way that it reflects what we know to be true—that athletes like me and my peers participate in sports without any inherent advantage, and that our humanity deserves to be respected,” Quinn said in a statement.
The new guidance, which is not legally binding, came three months after the Tokyo Olympics that saw the first male-born athletes compete in women’s sports in the history of the Games.
Australian Liberal Senator Claire Chandler, who previously criticized the IOC’s decision to include New Zealand transwomen weightlifter Laurel Hubbard in the female category, believed replacing biological sex with gender identity would come at the expense of fairness.
“That means Australian taxpayers are at risk of pouring billions of dollars into a 2032 Olympic Games, which encourages mediocre males to compete against the world’s best female athletes,” she said in a Facebook post on Nov. 17.
In October this year, the U.K’s Sports Councils Equality Group (SCEG) released an 18-month investigation, which concluded that “for many sports, the inclusion of transgender people, fairness and safety cannot co-exist in a single competitive model.”
“This is due to retained differences in strength, stamina and physique between the average woman compared with the average transgender woman or non-binary person assigned male at birth, with or without testosterone suppression,” it said.
“Categorisation by sex is lawful, and hence the requirement to request information relating to birth sex is appropriate.”
The report also noted that a “case-by-case” assessment system would not be “practical nor verifiable for entry into gender-affected sports.”