With this in mind, an international federation can still impose restrictions on transgender women and athletes with differences in sexual development (DSD), if it’s deemed necessary to ensure fair and safe competition. It’s a devastating blow for a number of athletes, including the likes of South African middle-distance runner Caster Semenya, who continues to be banned from competition by World Athletics. The organisation’s regulations which were implemented in 2018, prohibit athletes with DSD from competing between the distances of 400m and a mile unless they take hormone-reducing drugs. Semenya, a two-time Olympic 800m gold medallist, refused to take the drugs and was subsequently unable to defend her title at Tokyo 2020.
As IOC medical director Richard Budgett explained, “What we’re saying now is you don’t need to use testosterone at all, but this guidance is not an absolute rule. So we can’t say that the framework in any particular sport, such as World Athletes is actually wrong. They need to make it right for their sport and this framework gives them a process by which they can do it, thinking about inclusion and then seeing what produces disproportionate advantage.”
While competitive sport might focus on scoreboards and the data behind performances, the IOC has now acknowledged that such attitudes grounded in winning at all costs worked to exclude trans and cisgender women athletes. The framework now states support for the “central role that eligibility criteria play in ensuring fairness, particularly in high-level organised sport in the women’s category.”
GLAAD, the world’s largest LGBTQ media advocacy organisation, has called the new framework “a victory for all athletes and fans.” As Alex Schmider, associate director of transgender representation at GLAAD and producer of Hulu documentary Changing the Game, says: “Sports are for everyone, and fairness in sports means inclusion, belonging and safety for all who want to participate, including transgender, interest and non binary athletes.”