EXPLAINER: How will the IOC’s framework impact transgender athletes?

The International Olympic Committee headquarters in Lausanne, Switzerland
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The International Olympic Committee on Tuesday announced a new framework for the participation of transgender and intersex athletes in Olympic sports.

The framework – which will be implemented by international sport federations – features 10 principles, beginning with inclusion. “Everyone, regardless of their gender identity, expression and/or sex variations should be able to participate in sport safely and without prejudice,” the document reads.

“As per the Olympic charter – and the fundamental principles of Olympism – is that the practice of sport is a human right and therefore inclusive of everyone,” IOC Head of Human Rights Magali Martowicz said during a media roundtable on Tuesday.

While the IOC’s new framework is a historic step forward – and one celebrated by organizations like GLAAD and Athlete Ally – the framework isn’t a definitive set of rules. Instead, the six-page document is intended to help sport federations to create their own sport-by-sport, event-by-event policies.

“The framework gives them a process by which they can [make policy], thinking about inclusion and seeing what produces disproportionate advantage,” said IOC Medical and Scientific Director Richard Budgett.

What’s the context of the IOC’s announcement?

In April 2018, track and field’s international governing body (World Athletics, then IAAF) announced that female athletes with a Difference of Sexual Development (DSD) would be required to lower their natural testosterone levels to be eligible to compete in women’s races from 400 meters to 1500 meters. South Africa’s Caster Semenya, a two-time gold medalist at 800m (one of which was awarded only after a Russian athlete was disqualified for doping), was the most high profile athlete barred by this decision, though both of her podium mates from 2016 –  Francine Niyonsaba and Margaret Wambui – were also impacted.

In the lead-up to the Tokyo Olympics, two Namibian teenagers – Christine Mboma and Beatrice Masilingi – were ruled ineligible to compete in the 400-meter competition, where they would have been medal contenders, and switched instead to the 200-meter event.

Just days after the Tokyo Games concluded, the study that was the basis for World Athletics’ testosterone regulations – published by the British Journal of Sports Medicine in 2017 – issued a correction saying that the relationship between high testosterone levels and improved performance should not be considered causal.

The Tokyo Olympics also marked the first time that out transgender athletes competed at the Games. Weightlifter Laurel Hubbard from New Zealand became the first transgender woman to compete, though she failed to complete a lift in her event. The Tokyo Games also saw the first out non-binary athletes: Canadian soccer player Quinn won gold, U.S. skateboarder Alana Smith competed in the street competition, and BMX freestyle cyclist Chelsea Wolfe traveled to Tokyo as an alternate for Team USA.

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While the IOC’s guidance was written with elite sport at the forefront, the organization also said that the same principles of inclusion and non-discrimination “should be promoted and defended at all levels of sport, especially for recreational and grass-roots sport.”

That statement is particularly remarkable given the current onslaught of anti-trans sentiment and legislation that has been seen both in the United States and internationally. In the last two years, ten U.S. states have enacted anti-trans sports bans (either through legislation or executive orders). Many of these bills impact kids of all ages, beginning as early as elementary or middle school.

The IOC won’t use testosterone to determine eligibility, but that doesn’t mean sport federations can’t

In a major change, the IOC is nixing its own testosterone-cap policy and instead encouraging each sport federation to create its own policies based on the 10-part framework.

“We are really moving away from this one-size-fits-all approach,” Martowicz said.

The IOC’s previous guidelines – last updated in 2015 – stated that transgender women would be eligible to compete if their total testosterone level in serum had been below 10 nanomoles per liter for at least 12 months. The new framework waives that requirement.

“It is perfectly clear now that your performance is not proportional to your in-built testosterone,” Budgett said.

International sport federations may decide to continue using testosterone-based criteria if research supports that approach, and after Tuesday’s announcement, World Athletics indicated that its current testosterone-based eligibility rules will remain in place. It is also possible that some federations may choose to implement a testosterone-based policy that raises the bar above 10 nanomoles per liter.

“There was a lot of agreement amongst many of us in sport that the 10 nanomoles was probably the wrong level if you’re looking at testosterone anyway,” Budgett said.

IOC acknowledges previous harm of eligibility criteria, gender verification testing

Perhaps the most important takeaway from Tuesday’s announcement was the IOC’s acknowledgement that previous eligibility criteria have “sometimes resulted in severe harm” – leading to the second principle of the framework: prevention of harm.

Beginning in the 1960s, the IOC began mandating gender verification tests for Olympians competing in women’s events. These invasive and demeaning tests continued for decades, first as physical exams, and later as chromosome and hormone testing.

Further testing and medical procedures have also been directed specifically at intersex athletes, often without their knowledge or consent.

When the IOC first opened the door for transgender women to compete in 2004, surgery was a requirement for participation. That was later replaced by the testosterone-based rule (explained above).

“We really want to make sure athletes are not pressured into making a harmful decision about their bodies for the purpose of being allowed to compete,” Martowicz said.

The new framework explicitly states that criteria to compete in a certain gender category “should not include gynaecological examinations or similar forms of invasive physical examinations.” It also says athletes shouldn’t be subjected to targeted testing aimed at determining their sex, gender identity, and/or sex variations.

As part of Tuesday’s announcement, the IOC made a point of noting that such testing and medical procedures can harm all athletes, not just trans, intersex, and non-binary athletes.

Will sport federations create policies inclusive of transgender and intersex athletes? 

While the IOC will provide international federations with guidance on how to write their own policies, “the framework is not legally binding,” said IOC Athlete Department Director Keveh Mehrabi. “What we are offering to all the international federations is our expertise and a dialogue, rather than jumping to a conclusion.”

“It’s important to stress that the sports organizations cannot pick and choose the principles. They have to take them into account together,” Martowicz said.

The IOC framework shifts the burden of proof from individual athletes to the international sport federations. It also specifies that inclusion should be the default unless “robust and peer reviewed research” presents evidence that an athlete is gaining “a consistent, unfair, disproportionate competitive advantage in performance and/or an unpreventable risk to the physical safety of other athletes.”

That said, there is not an abundance of robust or peer reviewed research on the topic, which the IOC is planning to help fix using its own research fund.

“There are a number of priorities for the medical research fund, and one of them is transgender and DSD research,” Budgett said. “It’s very important that we broaden the evidence base. There is some interesting research that needs to come to conclusion, and that will give us much more information about performance which is the issue which is really key to determining eligibility.”

Can the IOC’s framework turn an unmoored debate into a constructive conversation?

The topic of transgender and intersex athlete inclusion is nearly always framed as a debate or controversy between two sides, something the IOC called out in Tuesday’s media roundtable.

International Olympic Committee presentation

Rather than take a so-called side, the IOC instead created a tool to move the conversation forward. As such, the tenth and final principle states that eligibility criteria should be regularly reviewed to account for any “relevant ethical, human rights, legal, scientific, and medical developments.”

“I think we can clearly say we have not found the solution to this big question,” said IOC corporate communications director Christian Klaue. “This is a topic which will be with us for a long time.”

Follow Alex Azzi on Twitter @AlexAzziNBC

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    Li Li Leung talks USA Gymnastics’ cultural transformation, challenges still to come and embracing her AAPI heritage

    Head of USA Gymnastics Li Li Leung.
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    Li Li Leung joined USA Gymnastics as president and CEO in March 2019, when the organization was reeling from the fallout of Larry Nassar’s widespread sexual abuse and the subsequent revelations of larger cultural issues within the sport. Since then, Leung has seen USAG through an ongoing transformation, one that hinges on the work of the survivors and staff around her, whom she is quick to credit. That evolution, as she calls it, has included instituting new norms and standards at all levels of the sport, particularly in matters related to athlete safety.

    Among the notable USAG initiatives that Leung has brought to fruition is the Athlete Bill of Rights, established in December 2020 as a tool “to unite the full gymnastics community around a shared vision of behavioral expectations.” At the same time, USAG instituted a protest policy for national team members aimed at supporting athletes who choose to use their voice on public platforms. Both initiatives were among the first of their kind in sport.

    Prior to joining USAG, Leung served as a vice president at the National Basketball Association (NBA), where she was responsible for building and managing key partner relationships around the world. She continues to use that experience in her roles as vice chair of the National Governing Bodies Council of the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee and a member of the International Gymnastics Federation’s Executive Committee.

    Leung, who began competing in gymnastics at age 7, was a member of the U.S. junior national training team and represented the U.S. at the 1988 Junior Pan American Games. She was a four-year member of the four-time Big 10 champion University of Michigan gymnastics team and was an NCAA Championships participant.

    In honor of Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month, On Her Turf sat down with Leung to talk about her journey with USAG, the challenges still to come and how being a member of the AAPI community has shaped the person she is today.

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    This Q+A has been condensed and lightly edited for clarity.

    On Her Turf: Let’s start by talking about your journey since joining USA Gymnastics in 2019. What have the last four years been like for you?

    Li Li Leung: This was just an incredible opportunity to give back to the sport that has given so much to me. And I really mean that because I started in the sport when I was 7 years old and did it for 15 years. It’s taught me all of these different skills that I apply to my daily life, both professional and personal. It feels a little bit like I’ve come full circle, and honestly, never in a million years did I think I would find myself in this role. … I joined at a time when it was a tumultuous time for the organization. It’s been just a little a little over four years now, and it has been an incredible journey — and believe it or not, I have enjoyed it. While it hasn’t been easy, I actually have enjoyed it, because I’ve been able to make it not just me. One thing that’s important to note is that — I had even said on my first interview with the board — it will take a village to accomplish what we need to accomplish. This is not a one-person job. And I was lucky enough to be able to bring on a leadership team that has been incredible, and also retain the staff that we have retained, as well as hire other new staff members. And it’s because of them and some really key volunteers that we’ve been able to accomplish what we’ve been able to do.

    OHT: Can you talk a little more about this cultural transformation that the organization has experienced and your approach to tackling this all-encompassing change?

    Leung: When I was interviewing for the position, I actually met every single board member. It was really critical to both sides that they felt that I matched the role and their needs and also I had to be confident in the board believing in the ultimate mission of the organization and what we wanted to achieve. So that the culture really does stem from the well – from the top down and everything in between as well. And when I was looking for leadership team, … one of the characteristics I was really looking for was they couldn’t have an ego. The job couldn’t be about themselves or about what they would personally get out of the role. It had to be about them believing in the bigger picture and believing in what we collectively wanted to achieve. I knew that we would only be able to accomplish what we need to accomplish if people were willing to roll up their sleeves and just do whatever needed to be done, so that was one of the key things in terms of having no ego.

    Since 2018, we’ve turned over more than 70 percent of our staff. We’ve been able to retain the really key members of our staff, who have been critical to our success, but also have been able to really bring in new thinking, new blood, new perspectives. Because the other thing I was looking for when I was hiring for the leadership team was diversity in perspectives. That was critical because I did not want to be surrounded by “yes people.” I wanted to be surrounded by people who would be willing to have really robust conversations and engage in difficult conversations, because ultimately, you end up in a better place because of that.

    In 2020, we reset our mission to be about building a community and culture of health, safety and excellence, with athletes who thrive in sport and in life. So we were no longer about developing technically superior gymnasts who perform well in gym. We reset our focus to be about helping set our athletes up for success with the skill sets that you learn in gymnastics, and when we come to the office each day, that’s what we’re thinking about. …

    The other piece is we also know from a community standpoint that our national team coaches are the most visible representation (of USAG), and a lot of coaches model them. So we’ve been working really hard in terms of working on educating our national team coaches. We work with Positive Coaching Alliance to do educational training with them as well. And we also have introduced training specifically for young coaches coming in, because we know when they come in and they’re new, that they’re eager to learn, and that’s when you can start training and moving them in a way. So our thinking is with this top-down and bottom-up strategy, eventually the middle will meet.

    OHT: You noted how the coaches can be some of the most visible representatives of USAG. Regarding the addition of 2008 Olympic silver medalists Chellsie Memmel (USAG technical lead) and Alicia Sacramone Quinn (USAG strategic lead), how have those women impacted the program?

    Leung: The addition of Chellsie and Alicia has been fantastic. They have been phenomenal to work with, and the fact that they have firsthand experience of having gone through it themselves – that also gives them a very good idea of what they would change and what they wouldn’t change, at the same time. It has been a phenomenal addition to be able to have this perspective of firsthand, high-level, high-performing athletes to be able to lead our high-performance team. And the athletes are saying it as well. They’re saying, “We trust them; we feel confident in their decisions; we can relate to them” — all of those things that historically haven’t really happened before.

    Then in terms of the athletes who are going to college and coming back to compete with USA Gymnastics – there are so many aspects that I think are great about this. One: It’s showing a lengthened career in a sport that historically has not been very long because it’s so demanding on the body. So that means that our athletes are physically healthier, as well, that they can train and compete at a high level for a longer period of time. It also means that they’re enjoying it more because they’re staying in the sport. From an emotional standpoint, they’re finding a lot more joy in the sport, and they’re talking about it, too. And we love the fact that they’re talking about it. We want them to talk about it, and we want them to have voices and feel open and free about sharing what they’re thinking about. I have to say I’ve been really enjoying seeing almost like — I’m not sure if I can go as far as a new era in the sport maybe — but just this evolution of the sport and the athletes changing in front of my eyes.

    OHT: What do you consider now to still be the biggest challenge or obstacle for USAG?

    Leung: There are a couple of big initiatives on the list. One is we want to build a training and wellness center where all of our disciplines will train under one roof. This is a long-term project, obviously, but my vision around it is that it will be the heart and hub of gymnastics in America. And while this is where national team athletes will ultimately train to some extent, it is going to be a welcoming place for athletes of all different disciplines and all different levels. We want it to be a place where young athletes can come through and see their role models training. We want this to be a place of education for our community and judges. We want to be able to run clinics there for all different levels. We just want this to be a gathering place of gymnastics and to be able to celebrate the sport there at the same time.

    We’re also going to reset our foundation. There’s been the National Gymnastics Foundation, but we are going to reset it and basically be much more proactive on fundraising and development to grow the sport and also to raise more money for athletes in their training.

    OHT: Turning to AAPI Heritage Month and being named to the 2023 Gold House A100 List (the A100 is named each May honoring 100 Asian Pacific leaders who made the greatest impact on culture and society over the past year). What did that honor mean to you?

    Leung: It was such an incredible honor to be recognized by them, and my fellow honorees — when I read the list, I thought to myself, “I don’t belong.” There are some incredible names on that list. But again, I go back to what I said earlier: I owe this honor to a lot of the other people who work [at USAG]. I think the really important thing to recognize is that this was not done by just me. It was done by a lot of other people who are on staff and who aren’t getting the accolades or the recognition. But it was an incredible experience to be, and I’m very, very touched and honored to be on that list.

    OHT: How do you identify within the Asian American Pacific Islander community? Did you embrace your heritage growing up and how has that shaped who you are today?

    Leung: So I’ll tell you a story that I’ve mentioned to other people recently. I grew up in a town called Ridgewood in Bergen County, New Jersey, and most of my friends had blond hair and blue eyes. When I was growing up, I wanted the name “Nancy Smith,” and I wanted blue eyes. I wanted to fit in. As a kid, you always want to fit in. Then when you get older and wizen up a little bit, you realize that it’s okay and it’s good to be different, that you can use that to your advantage. And so upon growing up, I realized that it’s pretty special to be Asian American and there are benefits to being Asian American, and you should embrace the fact that you are different. In fact, I recently lectured to a women-in-sports-business class, and one of the questions they asked me was about impostor syndrome. I said the same thing that I’m saying to you now, which is absolutely embrace who you are. Absolutely embrace your differences, because those ultimately are embedded advantages to who you are and make you stand out from the rest of the crowd. So that’s my philosophy now.

    OHT: Do you or your family have any traditions that are especially important to you?

    Leung: I wouldn’t necessarily say it’s a tradition, but in the Chinese culture, food is really important. Food is what brings people together. It’s a sign of respect, and that is the ultimate unifying language in a way. So when we do get together as a family, it’s really important for us to get together around a meal, because that’s when we share our stories. That’s when we connect with one another.

    OHT: You might have just answered my next question, but I want to ask: What brings you joy about your heritage and culture?

    Leung: It’s funny, I was actually at a conference last week and you were supposed to find someone you didn’t know in the conference and share a secret talent that you have. I shared that I can eat a lot more than most people think. Food is a really important part of our culture and in my upbringing and family.

    OHT: Lastly, I wanted to ask, as we’ve seen an increase in hate-filled actions toward the AAPI community, what does supporting the AAPI community look like for you?

    Leung: Well, I think kind of going back to my other answer, it’s just about embracing who you are and embracing your differences. I think part of it is being unafraid of it at the same time, which I know is really difficult. But if you’re going to truly embrace it, and then you can’t be afraid about embracing it at the same time.

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    2023 Mizuho Americas Open: How to watch, who’s playing in inaugural LPGA event at Liberty National GC

    Pajaree Anannarukarn of Thailand tees off on the eleventh hole during Day One of the HSBC Women's World Championship.
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    The Statue of Liberty is the backdrop for this week’s inaugural Mizuho Americas Open at Liberty National Golf Club in Jersey City, New Jersey. The tournament boasts a theme of mentorship and education, and includes a girls’ 72-hole, modified Stableford tournament featuring 24 juniors to go along with the 72-hole stroke-play event for 120 LPGA professionals.

    The field is led by seven of the top 10 players on the Rolex Rankings including world No. 1 Jin Young Ko, No. 3 Lydia Ko, No. 4 Lilia Vu and No. 5 Minjee Lee. Also teeing it up this week are the finalists from Sunday’s Bank of Hope LPGA Match-Play, where Thailand’s Pajaree Anannarukarn captured her second LPGA title with a 3-and-1 victory over Japan’s Ayaka Furue.

    Michelle Wie West is serving as the tournament host, and she’ll be on hand to welcome fellow Stanford alum Rose Zhang, who’s fresh off her second straight NCAA individual title and turned professional just last week. Zhang will have her first go at an LPGA prize purse, which tops out at $2.75 million this week with the winner taking home $412,500.

    How to watch the 2023 Mizuho Americas Open

    You can watch the 2023 Mizuho Americas Open on Golf Channel, Peacock, NBCSports.com and the NBC Sports app. Check out the complete TV and streaming schedule:

    • Thursday, June 1: 11 a.m.-2 p.m. ET, Golf Channel and Peacock
    • Friday, June 2: 11 a.m.-2 p.m. ET, Golf Channel and Peacock
    • Saturday, June 3: 5-8 p.m. ET, Golf Channel and Peacock
    • Sunday, June 4: 4:30-5 p.m. ET (streaming only on Peacock); 5-7:30 p.m. ET, Golf Channel and Peacock

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    Who’s playing in the 2023 Mizuho Americas Open?

    The 120-player field features seven of the top 10 players (and 16 of the top 25 player) on the Rolex Rankings:

    • No. 1 Jin Young Ko
    • No. 3 Lydia Ko
    • No. 4 Lilia Vu
    • No. 5 Minjee Lee
    • No. 6 Atthaya Thitikul
    • No. 8 Brooke Henderson
    • No. 9 Georgia Hall

    Also in the field are 2023 winners Celine Boutier (LPGA Drive On Championship), Ruoning Yin (DIO Implant LA Open) and Grace Kim (LOTTE Championship), plus several sponsor exemptions including reigning NCAA individual champion Rose Zhang and her Stanford teammate Megha Ganne. Ganne, a native of Holmdel, N.J., finished T-21 at the recent NCAAs and is playing as an amateur. Joining them as an exemption is fellow Cardinal Mariah Stackhouse, who has conditional status on tour in 2023. Monday qualifiers include tour rookie Alexa Pano and Australia’s Sarah Jane Smith.

    Among the notable juniors expected to play are 2022 Augusta National Women’s Amateur winner Anna Davis, 2022 U.S. Girls’ Junior winner Yana Wilson and 2022 U.S. Junior Girls’ runnerup Gianna Clemente. The 24 junior players were invited through their standings in the Rolex AJGA Rankings.

    What’s the format for the Mizuho Americas Open?

    The professionals will play a 72-hole stroke-play competition, with a cut to the top 50 and ties after 36 holes. The 24 juniors will play a 72-hole, no-cut competition using the modified Stableford scoring format and a different yardage than the pros.

    During the first two rounds, the AJGA players will all be paired together. During the final two rounds, one junior player will play with two LPGA pros with groupings based on scores. This unique format marks the first time the AJGA and LPGA have partnered to showcase junior and professional competitors playing together.

    Stableford scoring refresher: “Stableford” is a scoring system that awards points for the number of strokes taken on each hole in relation to par, rather than simply counting strokes like in stroke play. Unlike in stroke play, where players want the lowest score, the goal in Stableford scoring is to have the highest score. Standard Stableford points values are:

    • 0 Points – Double bogey or worse (two strokes or more over par)
    • 1 Point – Bogey (one stroke over par)
    • 2 Points – Par
    • 3 Points – Birdie (one stroke under par)
    • 4 Points – Eagle (two strokes under par)
    • 5 Points – Albatross or double eagle (three strokes under par)
    • 6 Points – Condor (four strokes under par)

    More about Liberty National Golf Club

    Located on the shore of the Upper Bay of New York Harbor, Liberty National Golf Club was designed by Bob Cupp and Tom Kite and officially opened on July 4, 2006. After the course received mixed reviews following the PGA Tour’s Northern Trust in 2009, the course underwent a renovation led by Steve Wenzloff of PGA Tour Design Services. Of note, the course hosted an event during the PGA Tour Playoffs four times (2009, 2013, 2019 and 2021) as well as the 2017 Presidents Cup, where the U.S. defeated the Internationals 19-11 for the Americans’ seventh consecutive victory in the competition and its 10th straight win overall. For this week’s event, the course will play to a par of 72 with an unofficial scorecard yardage of 6,671 yards.

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