LAUSANNE, Switzerland — Aiming to help sports write eligibility rules for transgender athletes, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) published an advice Tuesday shifting the focus from individual testosterone levels and calling for evidence to prove when a performance advantage existed.
No athlete should be excluded from competing based on an “unverified, alleged or perceived unfair competitive advantage due to their sex variations, physical appearance and/or transgender status,” the IOC said.
The six-page document follows years of consultation with medical and human rights experts and, since 2019, athletes directly affected to help draft guidelines promoting fairness and inclusion.
It is published after the Tokyo Olympics where the first openly transgender athlete, weightlifter Laurel Hubbard, competed at the games and defending 800-meter champion Caster Semenya was among track athletes with intersex conditions and naturally high testosterone levels excluded from their events.
The new guidance updates a 2015 review that set a limit on athletes’ permitted testosterone levels leading to treatments and procedures now described as “medically unnecessary.”
“Eligibility criteria have sometimes resulted in severe harm,” the IOC acknowledged in a briefing on the advice that also cautions to avoid “invasive medical examinations.”
Prevention of harm is among 10 principles to guide future decision-making by sports officials. Other include non-discrimination, fairness, evidence-based decisions and protecting athlete privacy.
The IOC document is not legally binding yet clearly stated what it now expects from governing bodies responsible for regulating their own sports.
Ruling some athletes ineligible in some sports is still expected with safety noted as a specific issue for combat and contact sports.
“Athletes should be allowed to compete but unfair advantage needs to be regulated,” said the IOC, which will help fund research into elite performance by transgender and intersex athletes.
A target of next March, weeks after the Beijing Winter Games close, was set to launch a program of online workshops with sports bodies and athlete representatives.
“We have not found the solution to this big question,” IOC spokesman Christian Klaue said. “Clearly this is a topic that will be with us for a long time.”