By Dirk Smith, M.Sc, SDL (He/Him)

Following a two year “consultation” process in which the International Olympic Committee worked with over 250 athletes, stakeholders, and organization, the IOC announced the release of an updated framework regarding guidelines for transgender, intersex and non-binary athletes competing in the Olympic Games.


The new framework is a much-needed update to the IOC’s previous 2015 Stockholm consensus, which was progressive for it’ time in regard to inclusion of trans athletes but still had a few shortcomings, most notably being an extremely generalized framework that was not unique to any individual sport. However, this new framework remedies that criticism by giving each individual sport’s governing bodies more control to determine the eligibility criteria for transgender, non-binary and intersex athletes.


What this framework does is reaffirm the rights of transgender, non-binary and intersex athletes to participate in sport safely and without prejudice. It calls upon sport organizations and national governing bodies to adopt measures and guidelines toward making their sporting environments more inclusive, systems in place to discourage and deal with bullying and harassment, combat systematic discrimination in sports, reaffirm that “fairness” in elite sports is a matter of individual assessment rather than a generalized notion.


Most importantly, the framework declares that there should be no presumption of advantage in sport based on “sex variations, physical appearance and/or transgender status” as well as ensuring that any restrictions relating to eligibility criteria must be supported by peer reviewed research and scientific evidence.


The framework also works to better protect the individual athlete and their bodily autonomy, declaring that no athlete should ever be pressured to undergo medically unnecessary or invasive procedures to verify their gender identity. This is especially important in the case of athletes like Caster Semenya who have been subjected to highly invasive and unethical evaluations from sporting organizations such as the International Association of Athletics Federations just to be able to compete.


The new framework has been applauded by trans, non-binary and intersex athletes and activists all over the world, representative a much-needed update and leadership from the IOC toward reaffirming the rights of every person to play sport. This new approach sends a strong message that bias against transgender, non-binary and intersex athletes have no place in sports and that any restrictions must be supported by rigorous scientific evidence.


With the Tokyo Olympics being the first Olympics that included openly trans athletes competing for the first time, this new framework sets an important benchmark toward full inclusion and representation in sports.


Photo credit: Ted Eytan