The Centre for Sport and Human Rights welcomes the IOC Framework on Fairness, Inclusion and Non- Discrimination on the Basis of Gender Identity and Sex Variations. Released on November 16th, the Framework provides guidance to sports bodies on how to create and implement eligibility criteria for men and women’s elite level competition, with an emphasis on the inclusion of transgender athletes and athletes with sex variations. It replaces IOC’s 2015 Consensus Statement.
The Framework is an example of what can be achieved when a sports organisation commits to adopting a human rights strategy, with human rights informing the policy design process from the start and to conducting extensive consultations with athletes and other key stakeholders in a meaningful way. It proposes a shift in the dichotomic paradigm often observed in the current public debate around the issue of inclusion of transgender athletes and athletes with variations in sex characteristics. Demonstrating that when a rights-based approach is applied, fairness and inclusion are not necessarily opposite nor irreconcilable concepts.
It is encouraging to see that the Framework acknowledges the right of everyone to practice sports at all levels and has inclusion, the prevention of harm, and non-discrimination as its three first principles. The document is also successful in its alignment with other fundamental human rights - such as freedom from abuse and harassment, bodily autonomy, privacy, and gender autonomy. It highlights that sport bodies must build physically, psychologically, and mentally safe environments for everyone, which must consider the specific needs and extra vulnerabilities faced by transgender athletes and athletes with sex variations.
The Framework takes into consideration that sport is usually binary – most sports have separated men’s and women’s categories – but refutes the idea that diverse gender identities and variations in sex characteristics per se would imply advantages in the playing field or impose risks to the safety of others. Therefore, it calls for International Federations to create their appropriate eligibility criteria - that might even vary between disciplines and events - in a responsible way: by respecting international human rights and standards, with extensive consultation with affected stakeholders, and based on credible and peer-reviewed research.
Finally, the paper recognises that some eligibility criteria in sport has negatively impacted the health and well-being of transgender women and women with variations in sex characteristics and emphasises the need for athletes to have access to effective grievance mechanisms and remedy. It stresses the importance of educating sport bodies, managers and coaches to avoid misinterpretations of the Framework and subsequent eligibility criteria that could lead to harms against athletes.
As articulated by Shift and Athlete Ally, two organisations respectively involved in the design and the consultation processes led by the IOC, the Framework is a significant step forwards, but it will only be successful if well implemented by sports bodies.
Mary Harvey, CEO, Centre for Sport and Human Rights, commented:
“We applaud the IOC for developing this athlete-centred, principles-based framework that is guided by human rights in its approach to health, safety, privacy and primacy of bodily autonomy and access to remedy for inclusive, fair and non-discriminatory sport. The wide stakeholder engagement undertaken by the IOC with affected athletes, experts and advocates is especially critical when developing such an important sport policy, and we’re delighted to see this so strongly considered during this process. The Centre looks forward to collaborating with the IOC and the entire Olympic Movement, in particular with International Sport Federations and National Olympic Committees, to provide support in the education, research, contextual design and implementation of responsible sport that continues to evolve from this framework.”