The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has abandoned its universal testosterone criteria for transgender athletes, instead handing over eligibility determinations to the governing bodies of each sport. Last week, the IOC released its new framework for transgender and intersex athletes, which urges sporting agencies to consider ten guiding principles in setting criteria to compete in single-sex events. The IOC places “inclusion” first on that list, above “prevention of harm” and “fairness”, which rank second and fourth, respectively.

Previously, IOC policies allowed biological males to compete in women’s competitions if they declared a female gender identity without changing it, for sporting purposes, for at least four years, and demonstrated testosterone levels below 10 nanomoles per liter for at least a year. (By comparison, most females, including elite female athletes, have testosterone levels of 0.12 to 1.79 nanomoles per liter; the normal testosterone range for post-pubescent males is 7.7 to 29.4 nanomoles per liter.)

The new recommendations discourage any sporting agency from requiring testosterone suppression or medical transition prior to allowing athletes who were observed male at birth to compete in the female category.

At the same time, the IOC report acknowledges that competitive sport “relies on a level playing field” and recognizes “the central role that eligibility criteria play in ensuring fairness, particularly in high-level organized sport in the women’s category.” The IOC document asks athletic governing bodies to base any eligibility restrictions for single-sex sports on “robust and peer reviewed research.” Yet, the IOC  fails to mention that such research, indicating a clear advantage for male-bodied athletes in almost every sport, already exists.

By allowing each athletic association to make its own determination as to transgender eligibility to compete in single-sex divisions, the IOC recognizes that the male-female athletic advantage is different in different sports. Fair enough. But it has also found a way to wash its hands of complex and difficult decisions that are likely to be highly criticized no matter the outcome. Some people may regard the new framework as revolutionary. But it’s really a profile in cowardice.

To learn more about the growing threat to women’s sports from male-bodied athletes, download IWF’s Competition report HERE.