Fairness, Inclusion and
Non-Discrimination in
Olympic Sport

In November 2021, the IOC released the Framework on Fairness, Inclusion and Non-Discrimination on the Basis of Gender Identity and Sex Variations.

This followed a two-year consultation process with more than 250 athletes and concerned stakeholders, which took place in the context of growing discussion about the best ways to support trans athletes and athletes with sex variations to compete in sport in ways that affirm their identity and well-being, while also ensuring meaningful and fair competition. The Framework constitutes the IOC’s guidance on this topic to sports bodies. It aims to support them to provide pathways to inclusion in elite sport for all athletes, without discriminating on the basis of gender identity or sex variations, while defining disproportionate advantage in ways that preserve meaningful and fair competition. This approach aligns with the IOC’s commitment to human rights as outlined in Olympic Agenda 2020+5.

The Framework comprises 10 principles:

  1. Inclusion
  2. Prevention of harm
  3. Non-discrimination
  4. Fairness
  5. No presumption of advantage
  6. Evidence-based approach
  7. Primacy of health and bodily autonomy
  8. Stakeholder-centered approach
  9. Right to privacy
  10. Periodic reviews

These principles are designed to be used as a collective whole.

The Framework recommends a multifaceted approach to eligibility criteria for sex-segregated sports competition. This is because the factors that matter to sports performance are unique to each sport, discipline, and/or event. The Framework also recognizes that populations of trans people and people with sex variations are highly diverse, including with regard to their athletic abilities. Like previous guidance, the Framework is nonbinding.

The full Framework can be accessed via the links on this webpage, along with answers to Frequently Asked Questions on this complex topic. The IOC is developing further implementation guidance aimed at supporting sports bodies to translate the Framework into practical actions and policy outcomes that embody the values of fairness, inclusion, and non-discrimination.

Download the full report in English and French

Questions & Answers

  • What is the Framework on Fairness, Inclusion and Non-Discrimination on the Basis of Gender Identity and Sex Variations?
    • The Framework contains guidance offered by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to support sports bodies, particularly those in charge of organising elite-level competition, in their efforts to develop rights-respecting and evidence-based eligibility criteria for sex-segregated sports competition. The Framework aims to help sports bodies provide pathways to inclusion in elite sport for all athletes, without discriminating on the basis of gender identity or sex variations, while defining disproportionate advantage in ways that preserve meaningful and fair competition. The goal is to offer a safe, inclusive and equitable environment for all athletes, including those who may experience discrimination because of their gender identity, gender expression, physical appearance and/or sex characteristics. The Framework comprises 10 guiding principles. The principles are intended to support sports bodies to develop eligibility criteria that reflect the specificities of their sport, while also supporting them to navigate the complex ethical, social, cultural, legal, and scientific considerations that this topic raises.
  • Is the Framework obligatory for International Federations to follow?
    • The sports at the Olympic Games are governed by the International Federations (IFs). With regard to eligibility criteria for sex-segregated competition, the Framework offers guidance to IFs without being mandatory. The previous Consensus Statement published by the IOC on the topic of eligibility for trans athletes and athletes with sex variations in 2015 was also non-binding for IFs.

      The IOC considers that sports bodies are well placed to define the factors that contribute to performance advantage in the context of their own sport. They are also well placed to determine the threshold at which an advantage may become disproportionate, devise relevant criteria, and develop the mechanisms needed to offset disproportionate advantage when it is determined to be present.

      Although the Framework is aimed at supporting the development of eligibility criteria, it should be noted that eligibility criteria are not an inevitable outcome of engagement with the Framework. Sports bodies may decide that no specific eligibility criteria need to be established in the context of their sport, with preference given to other measures that can facilitate fairness, inclusion and non-discrimination.

  • How does the Framework relate to previous guidance offered by the IOC on transgender athletes and athletes with intersex variations?
    • The Framework replaces all previous IOC statements and guidance on this matter, including the 2015 Consensus Statement.
  • Does the Framework apply to eligibility for the Olympic Games?
    • Each International Federation is responsible for setting eligibility rules for its sport, including the eligibility criteria that determine qualification for the Olympic Games. The IOC supports the participation of any athlete who has qualified and met the eligibility criteria to compete in the Olympic Games as established by their IF. The IOC will not discriminate against an athlete who has qualified through their IF, on the basis of their gender identity and/or sex characteristics.
  • Why should IFs apply the Framework to guide their response to trans athletes and/or athletes with sex variations?
    • The apparent tension between the inclusion of trans athletes and/or athletes with sex variations and fairness in sport is increasingly attracting legal, human rights and scientific scrutiny. This includes legal proceedings at both national and international levels that have resulted in rule changes. In parallel, sports bodies at all levels and across many jurisdictions are increasingly being asked to provide all athletes, regardless of their gender identity and/or sex characteristics, with pathways to sports participation, including at the elite level. This has led to concern amongst some stakeholders that the female category in particular will not be able to accommodate a greater diversity of athletes without negative consequences for some cisgender women athletes.

      The Framework offers sports bodies a principled approach to addressing this complex topic. Rather than providing IFs with a simplified one-size-fits-all approach to defining eligibility criteria, it aims to support IFs in the pursuit of a comprehensive process that considers all stakeholders.

      Use of the Framework will help sports bodies to holistically address the human rights, legal, scientific and ethical issues related to the participation of athletes in competition that is segregated by sex. It seeks to ensure that they have heard and learned from the needs and experiences of athletes directly impacted by eligibility criteria, and that resulting policy responses demonstrate a genuine commitment to providing pathways for inclusion while preserving the fairness of the competition. Beyond eligibility regulation, the Framework can be used to support longer term measures to promote equity, diversity and inclusion within individual sports and the wider Olympic Movement.

  • Is the Framework intended for use only by International Federations?
    • The Framework has been developed with the primary purpose of assisting IFs to develop rights-respecting eligibility criteria for sex-segregated sports competition.

      Beyond supporting IFs, the Framework may be useful in guiding policy responses at other levels of sport within the Olympic Movement. Moreover, the principles outlined in the Framework may also be relevant to the work of organisations other than those that establish rules for competition, such as National Olympic Committees (NOCs).

  • Does the Framework support inclusion at any cost?
    • The Framework does not dispute in any way the need for separate female and male categories in elite sport, given average performance differences between these populations at the elite level. The Framework also does not preclude the possibility of certain athletes being excluded where there is a demonstrated disproportionate advantage and/or safety risk and eligibility criteria are not met. What the Framework does suggest is that determinations of disproportionate advantage be based on appropriate evidence, rather than assumed on the basis of an individual’s transgender status and/or sex characteristics.

      The Framework asks sports bodies to consider the value of inclusion for, and the needs and rights of, trans athletes and athletes with sex variations. How sports bodies define disproportionate advantage should be informed by meaningful engagement with all stakeholders and consideration of the possible impacts of eligibility regulation on the athletes who would be directly affected.

  • How does the Framework address science?
    • The IOC recognises the value of scientific expertise in contributing to how sports bodies determine what they consider to be unfair and disproportionate advantage. The Framework includes several principles aimed at supporting sports bodies to identify and use relevant scientific research. These are based on a comprehensive review of existing research. They address, for example, the use of appropriate data, attending to individual-level variation, not assuming a priori the presence of disproportionate advantage, and identifying performance metrics specific to individual sports, disciplines and/or events.

      These considerations are essential to scientific rigor in the context of eligibility regulation. For example, it would not be scientifically rigorous to extrapolate findings from research using data collected from cisgender male athletes or trans women who are not involved in sport in order to draw conclusions about the athletic performance capabilities of elite trans women athletes.

      At the same time, the Framework recognises the challenges of conducting research into performance advantage. Even the most rigorous scientific research may not be able to generate clear-cut, indisputable and universal conclusions regarding performance advantage and eligibility criteria for sex-segregated competition. It is also for this reason that the Framework offers a comprehensive set of principles to guide sports bodies in taking decisions that are based on the best available evidence and that strive to ensure fairness, inclusion and non-discrimination on the basis of gender identity or sex variations.

      In parallel, the Framework encourages IFs to consider potentially negative impacts that may come from the use of personal data that is typically collected for the purpose of scientific research or an assessment of disproportionate advantage. In particular, the Framework acknowledges the vital importance of ensuring safe use of data to prevent harm.

  • Why does the IOC use the term “disproportionate advantage”, rather than simply saying an “advantage”?
    • A competitive advantage is what allows one athlete to outperform another. Such advantages exist in any sporting competition, and there are many ways in which an athlete may have advantages over their competitors. For example, an athlete may have a competitive advantage because of different training methods, access to sports science, or growing up in a country with a highly developed and/or well-resourced sports system.

      There are many competitive advantages that are allowed in sports competitions, even when they are not equally available to all athletes. For example, some athletes may benefit from greater financial support, access to altitude training, and/or from innate physical traits that grant them a competitive advantage. The Olympic Games often feature outstanding athletes with a clear advantage over others that has not been classed as disproportionate or unfair.

      However, there are also circumstances where sports bodies may seek to ensure that the advantage one athlete may have over another is not disproportionate.

      A disproportionate advantage is one that is so large that no other athlete competing in a contest will have a reasonable chance of winning. Such an advantage may be deemed to undermine the integrity of the competition. For example, average differences between cisgender women and men justify the provision of separate competition categories. Paralympic sport is classified in ways that seek to ensure athletes compete under conditions of proportionate advantage.

      The Framework is intended to support sports bodies as they decide what they consider to be disproportionate and unfair advantage in their sport, discipline and/or event. This requires attention to the full distribution of ability and advantage that exists in sport, including amongst elite cisgender women. Here, the principle of non-discrimination means not penalising trans athletes and/or athletes with sex variations for a level of ability that would normally be tolerated in other competitors.

  • Isn’t it dangerous to allow transgender athletes to compete before more research has been conducted?
    • Trans athletes are a highly diverse population, encompassing not only athletes of different body shapes and sizes but also very different transition journeys. Currently, trans athletes are also significantly under-represented in sport at all levels, particularly at the elite level. While existing studies suggest that between 0.1–1.1% of the world’s population is transgender, less than 0.001% of recent Olympians openly identify as trans and/or nonbinary.

      The IOC understands that in certain sports, particularly combat, contact and collision (CCC) sports, allowing athletes who have different body builds to compete against one another could increase the risk of injury. This is why CCC sports often use weight categories; it is also why they invest time and effort in understanding what protective gear can help mitigate such risks.

      The IOC’s Framework explicitly states that where sports bodies choose to issue eligibility criteria, they may consider injury risk to athletes (see principle 4).

      For example, a sports body regulating a collision sport may consider that it is dangerous for athletes with a certain difference in body weight or muscle mass to participate in the same event. However, it would be discriminatory to assume that all athletes who are transgender will have a certain body weight or muscle mass. It could also be the case that an athlete who is not transgender has a body weight or muscle mass that could endanger their fellow competitors.

      The Framework encourages sports bodies to consider actual risk, rather than using an athlete’s gender identity, gender expression, or physical appearance as a proxy for risk. The Framework also encourages sports bodies to apply their definition of safety risk without discrimination, i.e. to all competitors.

  • Why doesn’t the Framework propose a universal testosterone threshold to determine eligibility?
    • Through this new Framework the IOC is not suggesting that testosterone will never be relevant to an athlete’s athletic performance.  However, the limitations of testosterone-based eligibility criteria are widely recognised in the sports science community.

      With regard to endogenous (naturally occurring) testosterone, the Framework considers that:

      • - Individual athletic ability varies considerably, and may not be correlated with a person’s current or former testosterone levels. This includes considerable variation amongst cisgender male athletes, even in elite sport, where some men have testosterone levels considered by sports bodies to be in the normal female range.
      • - While endogenous testosterone may at times have a correlation with athletic performance, there is no scientific consensus that endogenous testosterone levels (including prior to transition) can predict an individual’s athletic performance.
      • - Existing evidence suggests that the relevance of testosterone will vary from sport to sport, and at times even from event to event.
      • - A universal reliance on testosterone levels is therefore imprecise and may render ineligible athletes who do not have a disproportionate advantage. It may also render eligible athletes who do have a disproportionate advantage.
      • - It is not appropriate to require an athlete to lower their testosterone levels for the sole purpose of meeting eligibility criteria, without considering secondary effects that doing so may have on their health and well-being. However, some athletes may have chosen to lower their testosterone for their own gender identity and gender expression needs (and not in order to meet eligibility criteria), which may be taken into account as part of a holistic assessment of their individual athletic ability.

      Taken together, it is not appropriate for the IOC to recommend a single testosterone threshold that applies universally across all sports, disciplines and events.

      In the event that a sports body chooses to regulate eligibility for sex-segregated competition in the context of its sport, it is encouraged to follow principle 6 to ensure that any such eligibility criteria are informed by evidence collected through scientific research that is specific to its sport, discipline and/or event. This should include consideration of the distribution of ability and advantage across all athletes. For example, an athlete may have or have formerly had high testosterone yet have athletic abilities that are consistent with the category in which they wish to participate, meaning their inclusion does not compromise meaningful competition.

  • Why does the Framework encourage sports bodies to seek alternatives to avoid athletes from being pressured to undergo medically unnecessary procedures to meet eligibility criteria?
    • The right to bodily autonomy is an internationally recognised human right. In practice, this means that every person should be allowed to make free and informed decisions about their own body, without facing pressures of any kind. Eligibility criteria that explicitly or implicitly require athletes to undergo medically unnecessary procedures may pressure an athlete to make changes to their body that are not aligned with their individual health and wellbeing needs.

      It is widely accepted today that the medical choices and needs of trans people and people with sex variations vary considerably. For example, in the case of trans people, there is no single transition journey. As such, no one medical intervention is deemed to be necessary in order for a person to be considered and live well as a trans person or person with sex variations. Rather, what is necessary is for a person to be able to access the medical intervention(s) that align with their individual health, identity and self-expression needs.

      Some athletes, particularly trans athletes who decide to undergo hormone replacement therapy, may choose of their own accord to lower their testosterone levels. This may be taken into account by sports bodies when determining whether a disproportionate advantage is present, though not in isolation from other considerations.

      The IOC also recognises that obtaining informed consent is challenging in this context. For many athletes, participating in sport constitutes their livelihood and/or a longstanding ambition in which they have invested considerably. As such, an athlete may not be able to make a free and informed choice that reflects their own individual needs when made to choose between undergoing a medical intervention (e.g., to lower their testosterone level) and continuing to compete. Sports governing bodies should consider these challenges surrounding informed consent as part of developing eligibility criteria in order to further ensure that medically unnecessary procedures are not directly or indirectly imposed.

  • Isn’t it more important to engage with experts rather than stakeholders?
    • Stakeholder and expert engagement are both critical parts of the Framework approach. Stakeholder engagement is promoted by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights as a necessary and valuable part of an organisation’s efforts to prevent human rights violations. In developing this Framework, the IOC engaged in extensive consultation with diverse experts and stakeholders over a one-year period. This included several listening sessions with trans athletes and athletes with sex variations, as well as with other cisgender women. By consulting those groups who would be directly impacted by eligibility criteria, sports bodies can gain a clearer understanding of the needs and experiences of those athletes. This in turn can lead to informed policy stances that minimise the possibility of harm to the athletes affected.

  • How does the Framework support women in sport?
    • The Framework was developed in consultation with hundreds of athletes, including a large number of women athletes (cisgender, transgender and women with sex variations). Fairness is prioritised alongside inclusion and non-discrimination. Among the safeguards for women in the Framework are:

      • - Provisions to ensure fairness in the female category, including the ability of sports bodies to develop criteria to ensure that all athletes compete under conditions of proportionate advantage.
      • - Provisions to ensure the safety of all athletes, including the prevention of discrimination and harassment and the ability of sports bodies to develop criteria to prevent injury risk.
      • - Restrictions to prevent any athlete from being targeted for testing or assumed to have an alleged advantage solely on the basis of her physical appearance.
      • - Avoiding the use of invasive procedures including gynecological examinations and testing to try to determine a person’s sex, which can greatly harm the individuals affected while also setting a precedent that could negatively impact all women athletes.
      • - The request that sports bodies develop accessible, safe and transparent mediation mechanisms and procedures to support athletes to raise grievances or concerns related to eligibility criteria.
      • - Provisions to protect athletes’ privacy and ensure all athletes are informed about how their personal and medical information is used.

      The Framework recognises the importance of minimising the burden on trans women and women with sex variations, who are already at a higher risk of experiencing discrimination in and beyond sport. It seeks to support sports bodies to adopt an approach that can minimise the scrutiny, monitoring and imposition of medical interventions associated with eligibility regulation in the female category.

  • Wouldn’t the introduction of a third category resolve the issues around inclusion?
    • With only some exceptions, Olympic sport is based on binary competition categories separating women and men. The Framework also recognises the principle of self-identification, which means that no athlete should be made to compete in a category that does not align with their gender identity. The term transgender can be considered an umbrella term that encompasses a diversity of identities and lived experiences (e.g., non-binary and queer). Similarly, people with sex variations may identify in diverse ways. However, the majority of trans athletes and athletes with sex variations identify with and desire to compete in one of the two existing binary categories. Therefore, it would not be appropriate to require trans women, for example, to participate in a third category when they are, in fact, women. However, the Framework does support the use of eligibility criteria to ensure meaningful and safe competition within existing categories.
  • What does the Framework offer to non-binary athletes?
    • The IOC recognises that people who identify as non-binary find it difficult to participate in sports settings that are organised around binary sex/gender categories. The IOC also recognises that there is growing interest in and demand for nonbinary options for sports participation at community and club levels in many countries. While the Framework was not developed specifically in response to the needs of nonbinary athletes, Principle 8 (Stakeholder-centred approach) offers a mechanism for sports bodies to engage with non-binary stakeholders in their sport. It is possible that, in the process of consulting stakeholders, sports bodies will identify a need to develop further opportunities for non-binary sports competition, in addition to identifying other needs for non-binary athletes.
  • Doesn’t inclusion on the basis of self-determined gender identity encourage gender fraud?
    • Principle 3 states that athletes should be allowed to compete in the category that best aligns with their self-determined gender identity, provided they meet relevant eligibility criteria.

      There are few to no recorded instances of athletes disingenuously attempting to compete under a gender identity that is different from the one that they consistently and persistently use. Even so, the Framework has specific provisions to prevent the possibility of athletes abusing protections for transgender athletes.

  • How can IFs apply the 10 principles of the Framework and define what competitive advantage means for their own sport and context?
    • The IOC will support the IFs in their deliberations around the implementation of the Framework by providing educational support, access to resources and expertise. This will include support related to how disproportionate advantage can be defined across different sports settings, including those where there is limited research that meets the scientific standards promoted by the Framework.
  • Some IFs already have criteria in place and have gone through lengthy processes to arrive at such criteria. Does the Framework mean they have to start all over again?
    • Many sports bodies have taken important steps to consider how eligibility criteria can help strengthen fairness, inclusion and non-discrimination in their own sport. The Framework is intended to complement these efforts, rather than fully replace them, by offering insights that may have not been taken into account to date. IOC implementation guidance will present pathways for how sports bodies can balance the different principles that make up the Framework.
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