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The Olympics has new guidelines for journalists covering trans athletes in Paris this summer

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On Thursday, the International Olympics Committee announced the latest rendition of their Portrayal Guidelines ahead of the Paris 2024 Olympics, which contains positive recommendations for covering transgender Olympians. The guidelines provide instruction for how reporters can better discuss gender diversity in the games.

“As we prepare for the Olympic Games Paris 2024, the updated Portrayal Guidelines are pivotal in our mission to deliver fair and inclusive coverage of all athletes,” says Yiannis Exarchos, CEO of the Olympic Broadcasting Service, in the guidelines’ announcement.

“At Olympic Broadcasting Services, we are committed to using our platform to showcase the diverse stories and achievements of sportspeople worldwide, ensuring that our broadcasts reflect the true spirit of equality and excellence that defines the Olympic Movement.”

The guidelines consist of a 33-page document that primarily focuses on how the media can avoid misogynist portrayals of women Olympians. At the end of the document there are five pages devoted to giving the best practices for covering trans people.

The guidelines ask reporters to avoid using terms like “biologically male” or “born female” in describing trans people, with preference given to terms like “transgender woman” or “transgender man.”

“It is always preferable to emphasize a person’s actual gender rather than potentially calling their identity into question by referring to the sex category that was registered on their original birth certificate,” the guidelines say.

“If there is a clear reason to refer to the category a person was assigned at birth, the terms to use are: “assigned female at birth,” “assigned male at birth,” or “designated female at birth,” “designated male at birth.”

The guidelines continue with recommendations to gender trans people correctly and use their preferred names. They state that trans people should be centered in news stories covering them.

One notable recommendation is for journalists to not just focus on an athlete’s transgender status but instead to also highlight their sporting history. This likely comes in response to the standard coverage of trans athletes, which largely focuses on controversies surrounding their identity.

As for recommendations for women, they suggest avoiding singling them out as “ladies” without referring to men as “gentlemen.” They also say to take non-sexualized pictures that highlight the athletic prowess of the Olympians and to ensure that coverage of specific Olympians isn’t biased towards one gender.

Opponents of transgender rights are not happy about the inclusion of trans-friendly reporting in the guidelines.

Olympian Sharron Davies said to the Daily Mail, “The IOC never fails to disappoint me with their utter hypocrisy. Here they are trying to curtail journalists from telling the public the truth when males are in races for females with an unfair advantage at the same time as boasting all over social media of the first games with gender equality – you couldn’t make this stuff up.”

Davies did not comment on the 28 pages of guidelines for how to avoid sexist reporting of women.

Ten Olympic sports currently restrict transgender women from participating in women’s categories. While the International Olympic Committee has stated its commitment to supporting transgender athletes, they have not sought reversals of these decisions.

Rowing, boxing, athletics, cycling, swimming, rugby, and cricket have some degree of restriction for transgender athletes in women’s categories. These range from not allowing trans women who underwent a testosterone-based puberty to blanket bans on any trans participants.

The triathlon, tennis, and archery require trans women to have low testosterone levels for a long period of time, varying by the sport.

One transgender athlete spoke to Reuters in 2023 after trans women who went through a testosterone-based puberty were banned from participating in athletics.

“I cannot understand this decision as transgender women have always been allowed to compete if their testosterone levels were below a certain threshold,” French sprinter Halba Diouf said. 

“The only safeguard transgender women have is their right to live as they wish and we are being refused that, we are being hounded… I feel marginalized because they are excluding me from competitions.”

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