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IOC no longer will determine transgender athlete eligibility by testosterone levels

At this past summer’s Tokyo Games, New Zealand weightlifter Laurel Hubbard became the first openly transgender female athlete to compete in the Olympics. (Edgard Garrido/Reuters)

The International Olympic Committee is moving away from a focus on individual testosterone levels in transgender and intersex athletes as a way of determining those athletes’ eligibility for competition.

In new guidelines for inclusion on the basis of gender identity, the IOC is encouraging policies that require evidence that transgender athletes have a competitive advantage. In guidance released Tuesday, the IOC pushes responsibility for making gender policies to the global governing bodies of individual sports while offering to give those organizations assistance in creating fair rules.

The new directives replace a 2015 IOC policy that demanded transgender and intersex athletes have testosterone levels below a certain threshold measured through a testing process that could be damaging to the athletes.

“Every athlete has the right to practice sport without discrimination and in a way that respects their health, safety and dignity,” the new guidelines state. “At the same time the credibility of competitive sport — and particularly high-level sporting competitions — relies on a level playing field where no athlete has an unfair or disproportionate advantage over the rest.”

The fight for the future of transgender athletes

At this summer’s Tokyo Games, weightlifter Laurel Hubbard became the first openly transgender female athlete to compete in the Olympics.

IOC officials said they hoped the new guidelines will allow sports to tailor their gender eligibility policies in more equitable ways. They said that in studying ways to update the policy they discovered that many sports federations were devising their own rules for gender eligibility.

“This is guidance; it’s not an absolute rule,” said Richard Budgett, the IOC’s medical and scientific director.

The new policy asks sports organizations to look at a number of factors including inclusion, prevention of harm and fairness when making their rules. But the biggest seemed to be backing away from testosterone limits.

“It’s important we broaden the evidence base,” Budgett said. “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 IOC hopes to start holding workshops with sports organizations in March, after the Beijing Winter Olympics.

More about the Tokyo Olympics

The Tokyo Olympics have come to a close.

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