Statement on the Release of the International Olympic Committee’s New Framework on Fairness, Inclusion and Non-Discrimination

New York, NY.

Since 2018, Shift has been advising the International Olympic Committee (IOC) on a range of topics related to the organization’s responsibility to respect human rights. Today, the IOC released its new Framework on Fairness, Inclusion and Non-Discrimination on the Basis of Gender Identity and Sex Variations, which is the result of an extensive research, consultation and design process carried out by the IOC over the last three years involving inputs from many stakeholders, as described here. Importantly, this included consultation with transgender and intersex athletes whose experiences and insights were essential in informing the IOC’s approach. Shift has provided expert advice to the IOC throughout each step of this process.

The Framework provides guidance to sports bodies within the Olympic Movement on how to draft and implement eligibility criteria for men’s and women’s categories in competitive sport. Historically, the creation of gender categories has played an essential role in helping to break down the structural barriers that excluded and unfairly discriminated against women and prevented their equal participation in sport. At the same time, the design and implementation of eligibility criteria for these categories has led in some instances to significant human rights harms to individual women, in particular transgender women and women with sex variations.

The Framework seeks to safeguard the rights of all athletes, in particular, the rights of transgender athletes and women athletes with sex variations who have historically faced hostile sporting environments, including discrimination and abuse, and in some cases have experienced irreversible impacts on their health, privacy, safety and livelihoods.

Shift welcomes the progress made by the IOC through this Framework in:

  • Recognizing that eligibility criteria for sex-segregated sports may lead to harm to some athletes and calling on sports bodies to conduct due diligence to identify and prevent negative impacts on all athletes’ health and well-being.
  • Acknowledging and respecting the concept of gender autonomy in line with evolving international human rights standards, which recognizes that individuals should be able to define their own gender identity.
  • Seeking to prevent discriminatory assumptions (for example, based on an individual’s physical appearance) in the development and implementation of eligibility criteria, which have disproportionately affected transgender women and women of color from the Global South.
  • Confirming the rejection of invasive physical examinations and other scientifically unfounded “sex-testing” methods as ways to determine eligibility, which have in the past led to grave forms of abuse.
  • Aiming to prevent eligibility criteria from infringing on the right to bodily autonomy, including ensuring that such criteria do not directly or indirectly pressure athletes to undergo medically unnecessary treatment or procedures of any kind.
  • Strengthening the role of informed consent as a prerequisite for the collection and use of personally identifiable information, in order to protect the privacy and safety of all athletes.
  • Ensuring that eligibility criteria set by sports governing bodies are informed by the perspectives and lived experiences of affected stakeholders, as the development of the Framework was.

The success of this new Framework in ensuring respect for the rights of transgender and intersex athletes will depend heavily on how it is implemented by sports governing bodies. The IOC will need to play an active and ongoing role in this regard. Moreover, adoption of a forward-looking Framework does not, on its own, address harms that have occurred in the past, which sports bodies will also need to consider. 

While this Framework marks an important change in the Olympic Movement’s approach to the issue of eligibility, it continues to be founded on a binary notion of gender; further work will be needed on the inclusion of athletes who are non-binary or have gender non-conforming identities.

Finally, the adoption of eligibility criteria that take greater account of human rights standards is only one element in meeting the broader responsibility of sports bodies to prevent and address all forms of abuse and harassment towards athletes and others participating in sport, particularly towards those who may be most vulnerable or marginalized.

“The rules set by sports bodies, and particularly by the IOC as the global steward of the Olympic Movement, can have an immense impact on the lives of athletes and also on the perceptions of everyone who follows competitive sport. When a sports body adopts rules that are grounded in inclusion and the prevention of harm, it is not only recognizing its human rights responsibilities; it is also sending a powerful social message about respecting the dignity of all athletes.”

Rachel Davis Shift Vice President and Co-Founder

“This is an unprecedented step in the world of sports. The IOC’s new Framework helps break the myth that fairness and inclusion are mutually exclusive; that eligibility has to be a zero-sum game between including trans athletes and protecting the female category. Rather, it is sending a strong message to the world of sports that eligibility rules cannot rely on placing unfair burdens on transgender and intersex athletes, which often lead to grave impacts on their health, careers and livelihoods.”

Daniel Berezowsky Shift Advisor who led Shift’s support to the IOC’s consultation and design process

For media inquiries regarding this statement, please contact communications [at] shiftproject [dot] org.

Photo courtesy of the IOC.

Shift President Remarks at John Ruggie Memorial Service

Boston, MA | These remarks were delivered by Caroline Rees at the memorial service held in honor of John Ruggie on November 20, 2021 at Memorial Church, Harvard University.

The Ruggie Principles, with a small ‘p’

The Ruggie Principles. That’s the name by which so many people around the world refer to the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights — one of the towering achievements of John’s career. After decades of bitter disagreement among governments about the responsibilities of companies toward society, John built, block by block, a critical consensus on the foundations of a simple proposition: that all companies have a responsibility to respect the human rights and dignity of people whose lives their business affects.

Yet the simplicity that the Guiding Principles represent is deceptive. John used to hearken back to the saying attributed to Oliver Wendell Holmes Senior that, ‘I give not a fig for the simplicity this side of complexity, but I’d give my arm for the simplicity that lies the other side.’ The simplicity of the propositions in the Guiding Principles was wrought by understanding, grappling with and mastering complex realities that cut across rule-making, markets, and societies.

John took a conversation that had long been about how companies may choose to spend their profits and made it squarely and firmly one about how they make their profits. An idea that seems almost ludicrously obvious today has become so in good part due to the fundamental changes in mindset and assumptions that the Guiding Principles first crystallized, and then normalized.

Yet those Ruggie Principles with a capital ‘P’ would not exist as they do, nor have had the impact they already have, were it not for some Ruggie principles with a small ‘p’. Those principles are not written down, nor were they ever spoken or discussed. But they were there in John’s everyday work and life as so many of us saw. They were as important to his achievement of the Guiding Principles as were his extraordinary intellect and academic credentials. Let me briefly share three of them with you.

Ruggie principle #1: Always assume there are as many great insights to be gained from the people who stand in the shadows of power and policy-making as there are from those who stand in their spotlight.

What John heard and learned from community leaders in the Peruvian Andes struggling with the effects of mining on their livelihoods and culture; what he heard from workers in Asia, and from union representatives in the US and Europe struggling with some of the harsh realities in factories and plantations — what he heard from all these people impressed him deeply.

He valued the distinct perspectives they brought, and which were so often missed or ignored or reframed by others to serve their own ends. They stayed with him and fundamentally shaped his thinking.

They can be found woven throughout the lines and the vision of the Guiding Principles.

Ruggie principle #2: Cherish the simple wonders of this life that reflect our common humanity.

Those of us on John’s UN mandate team used to look forward each summer to the photos that would arrive once he finally got to his summer break on Cape Cod with his beloved Mary. Photos of stunning sunsets, but which punctured the visual cliché and transmitted his personal delight by including his toes in the forefront of each shot.

John’s delight in his family was as evident as his delight in the natural world around him. Whenever he spoke of Mary or Andreas — and latterly of Leda, his new daughter-in-law — he would literally glow from head to toe.

He knew that these simple joys in our world and in our loved ones are what connect us as people, no matter how many other barriers and differences we strive to create.

Ruggie principle #3: Never take yourself too seriously.

John was a master of the emoji and the clown was his favorite. Pure John.

He never talked about the work of developing the Guiding Principles in the first person singular — always the first person plural. It was always about what ‘we’ — his team — achieved. He felt no need to claim it for himself alone.

He never talked about the work of developing the Guiding Principles in the first person singular — always the first person plural. It was always about what ‘we’ — his team — achieved. He felt no need to claim it for himself alone.

And as the reach and impact of the Guiding Principles expanded, that ‘we’ expanded to include all the people around the world using them to make a difference. He reveled in their successes and championed their work wherever and however he could.

And while John was often received in his travels — his meetings with Presidents, Ministers, business leaders — with quite some pomp and ceremony, he was — albeit respectful and appreciative — also always slightly amused, even bemused, to find himself the center of such attention. After all, he was just John.

The Ruggie Principles with a capital ‘P’ will go on in the world and continue to shape the future of how business gets done and how that, in turn, shapes our societies. There is a veritable army of us on all continents who stand ready to make sure that they do so; an army John never had to stand up or call to arms. We just saw the Ruggie principles with a small ‘p’ in action, and we knew: this guy — what he stood for, and what he stood up for — was for real.