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International Olympic Committee develops new guidelines for transgender and intersex athletes

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The International Olympic Committee issued new guidance Tuesday that backs off of previous policies affecting transgender and intersex athletes. While the new framework focuses on inclusion, it is non-binding, and the IOC said it will leave it to individual sport federations to make and enforce their own eligibility requirements.

Under the new framework, the IOC prompts international federations to shift towards impartial evidence-based research when determining an athlete's eligibility status for competition. Under the past framework that all federations had adopted, all athletes across all sports had to meet specific criteria, such as women being required to only having a certain amount of testosterone in their bodies.

The IOC now recommends that evidence needed to restrict an athlete from competition must demonstrate "a consistent, unfair, disproportionate competitive advantage" that poses an unpreventable risk for the specific sport regulated and it must be based largely on data.

The new framework also says that international federations should use eligibility criteria "that does not systematically exclude athletes from competition based upon their gender identity, physical appearance and/or sex variations." The guidance also states that athletes should not be assumed to have an unfair and advantage due to them being transgender or having sex variations, unless specific evidence determines otherwise. 

The guidelines also state that athletes should not be subjected to any unnecessary or invasive examinations and emphasizes the athlete's right to privacy and transparency during the eligibility process. 

The guidance replaces the Committee's previous Consensus Statement issued in 2015, which dictated hormone level requirements in competition eligibility. According to the prior guidelines, those who transition from male to female were only allowed to compete with other female athletes under certain circumstances, including a testosterone level in serum below 10 nmol/L for at least 12 months before the athlete's first competition. 

The previous framework was subject to a great deal of criticism in the leadup to the 2020 Tokyo Games. Two 18-year-old sprinters from Namibia were barred from competing in the 400 meters after tests revealed a high natural testosterone level that exceeded the track and field rules' threshold, according to the Associated Press. Caster Semenya of South Africa switched from the 400 meters to the 200 meters because of the same regulation.

Canadian soccer player Quinn, who became the world's first openly transgender Olympic gold medalist at the 2020 Olympics, called the committee's new changes "groundbreaking."

"Far too often, sport policy does not reflect the lived experience of marginalized athletes, and that's especially true when it comes to transgender athletes and athletes with sex variations," Quinn said in a statement Tuesday. "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."

The American Civil Liberties Union also praised the updated guidance, saying that "trans people belong in sports, from community youth leagues all the way to the Olympics."

The Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) said the International Olympic Committee "is confirming what we already know: transgender and intersex athletes should be fully included in competition."

"Every state and lawmaker should listen to the experts from the world of sports," Alex Schmider, GLAAD's associate director of transgender representation said Tuesday on Twitter. 

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