A group of medical experts have criticised the International Olympic Committee’s (IOC) framework for transgender and differences in sex development (DSD) athletes, claiming it ignores the science and focuses on inclusion.
In a position paper, scientists linked to the International Federation of Sports Medicine and European Federation of Sports Medicine Associations warn the IOC’s guidelines could lead to unfair competition in female sport.
They argue the IOC’s stance that there should be “no presumption of performance advantage” is “is in stark contrast with the outcome of the 2015 IOC consensus, the scientific evidence, and the subsequent assessment of numerous sports medicine associations/commissions”.
The IOC in November updated its framework for the participation of transgender athletes, which are due to be implemented after the upcoming 2022 Winter Olympic Games in Beijing.
It marks a move away from the IOC’s 2015 consensus statement, which had a “one-size-fits-all” approach to the participation of transgender athletes, based on testosterone levels.
The previous framework required transgender athletes seeking to compete in the female category to lower their testosterone to below 10 nanomoles per litre for at least 12 months.
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The group of 38 experts and scientists to have signed the paper, including two members of the IOC’s own Medical and Scientific Commission, also argue the IOC should set standards on the subject rather than providing recommendations for International Federations to follow.
They warn the IOC’s guidelines could lead to athletes “self-identifying” into the gender category of their choice.
“The new IOC framework mainly focuses on a particular human rights perspective, and the scientific, biological or medical aspects are not considered,” the position paper states.
The head of the World Athletics medical department, the International Cycling Union medical director and the the chair of the World Rowing Sports Medicine Commission have also signed the paper, which they hope will spark debate about the IOC’s framework.
“It is true that it is only fair on transwomen to respect their choice to compete against cisgender women but fairness is always bidirectional and one group cannot decide what is fair for another,”
World Rowing Sports Medicine Commission chairman Jurgen Steinacker told the Mail on Sunday.
“In this case, I think what they are doing is unfair on females.”
Critics, however, have claimed the arguments presented in the position paper are outdated.
Human Rights Watch said the IOC’s position was a “significant step toward protecting the dignity of all women athletes”.
The pressure group claimed it “represents a turning point for the fundamental rights of athletes, and a boost for women’s inclusion in sports worldwide”.
In response to the paper, an IOC spokesperson said the new framework “does not exclude medical and scientific considerations at all, but it also invites Federations to include human rights and legal perspectives in their analysis in order to create rules that are as inclusive as possible”.
“We share the goals of the statement’s authors, notably regarding the protection of the rights of all athletes and providing tools to International Federations to ensure inclusion and fairness,” the spokesperson said.
“The IOC reviewed many of the existing relevant scientific studies on the topic.
“There is no single right answer from science at this stage as the scientific evidence needs to be specific to each sport or discipline and how competitive advantage is to be measured there.
“And there is a very simple reason for that: good performance means very different things across different sports.
“The framework does not exclude medical and scientific considerations at all, but it also invites Federations to include human rights and legal perspectives in their analysis in order to create rules that are as inclusive as possible.
“The IOC will continue to leverage its existing research fund to support International Federations and promote more research on this topic.
“There is some interesting ongoing research that we expect to give us more information about performance, which is key to determining eligibility, and will broaden the evidence base.
“We will also continue to gather evidence and knowledge from research funded elsewhere as this is an ever-evolving topic.”