Transgender Athlete Participation in Sport
We are invested in becoming a DE&I leader in sport by providing access and opportunity for all.
As discussed at the Dec. 7, 2022 USOPC board meeting
The United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee is dedicated to empowering Team USA athletes to achieve sustained competitive excellence and well-being. In line with that mission, the USOPC is equally committed to ensuring fairness in sport at all levels. We believe that commitment should be a priority for all who believe in the unifying power of sport.
When considering participation in sport, we rely on fairness as our guiding principle. It is not fair if athletes cannot participate or compete in sport because of their gender identity – participation in sport should be available to everyone. Similarly, it is not fair if an athlete must face unreasonable field of play safety risks or a much-reduced chance for success in competitive sport due to sex-linked physiology – ensuring fairness in sport should be a priority for everyone.
We are mindful that the current sport landscape may leave currently competing athletes feeling uncertain regarding potential shifts in their eligibility status. As policies are reviewed and at times modified, athletes may face difficult adjustments or transitions in competitive categories or opportunities. The USOPC will work with athletes and National Governing Bodies to help make these as seamless as possible, to ensure all athletes may train and compete to the best of their ability.
In our world of elite sport, these elements of fairness demand that we reconcile athlete inclusion and athlete opportunity. The only way to do that for all genders, and specifically for those who are transgender, is to rely on real data and science-based evidence rather than ideology. That means making science-based decisions, sport by sport and discipline by discipline, within both the Olympic and Paralympic movements. The science in this area is emerging, so at present we must focus on the available science we have and – importantly – work together to advance it further.
This work must be done in collaboration and cooperation with the IOC, the IPC, the International Sport Federations, the National Governing Bodies, the NCAA, and other sport governing bodies. All of us need to have a role in advancing the collection and evaluation of that data.
For our part, the USOPC is working on education, collaboration, and coordination among these sport organizations and seeking to help organize and fund research, and dedicating staff expertise to this effort. We are eager to partner with researchers and experts in our community to move this work forward with a goal of answering the performance questions required to develop evidence-based policies.
While the science is advancing, and until it can offer us clearer guidance, we must do our best work to ensure fairness. In that light, the USOPC supports the 2021 IOC guidance for elite sport and its recognition that rules protecting fairness must be implemented by each individual International Sport Federation.
We believe that fairness in sport comes in the context of two fundamental levels of sport participation.
- For athletes participating in sport up to the start of puberty, the USOPC feels strongly that fairness should prioritize inclusion and participation. Here, we believe the science is clearer that there is much less physical safety or competitive risk, or sporting advantage based on physiological sex characteristics. The emphasis in youth sport needs to be on more kids participating, period. Participation benefits include healthier kids – physically, socially, and emotionally – better relationships, community building, and a stronger pipeline to elite sports for those who seek it. (Aspen Institute, link)
- For athletes participating in sport during or after puberty, fairness demands a balanced approach aimed at inclusion and also at field of play safety and existing competitive opportunity. This sport-by-sport work should be based on extending the existing and important concept of category qualifiers to better accommodate transgender athlete participation. Category qualifier systems include those such as the athlete classification system in Paralympic sport, weight classes in sports such as boxing and wrestling, and handicaps in golf
The work of creating, employing, and improving category qualifier systems offering meaningful competition and fairness in all its aspects must be ongoing and reflect advances in science and data, and must be accomplished at each International Sport Federation. And again, all of us in the community of sport can help, including by helping athletes weather the changes and challenges they may experience as adjustments and improvements are made.
With effective multi-factor category qualifiers applied on a sport-by-sport basis for participation after puberty, we can ensure that every developing athlete and every elite athlete has the opportunity to compete based on competitive classes, and categories that ensure fairness for all.
Ultimately, we must never lose sight of the profound opportunity to foster a better and more inclusive world through sport – in our local communities and around the world – in line with the values of the USOPC and of the Olympic and Paralympic movements. There is a pathway for everyone, and we feel strongly that access to sport and the associated benefits of sport participation must never be used a tool to marginalize any group.
All of us who care about sport have a great deal of work ahead on this subject, and we look forward to putting our commitment into action for the betterment of all who want to play.