Trans woman Laurel Hubbard competing at Tokyo 2020. GETTY IMAGES

In its latest 'Portrayal Guidelines', the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has encouraged media not to use the terms "biologically male" or "biologically female" when describing trans athletes, calling it "problematic language".

This is the third edition of the IOC's Portrayal Guidelines subtitled 'Gender-equal, fair and inclusive representation in sport'. They have been "created for the Olympic Movement stakeholders, in line with the IOC Gender Equality and Inclusion Objectives for the 2021-24 period". Members of the Olympic Movement are "encouraged to adopt and adapt these Guidelines according to cultural contexts".

The document deals primarily with challenging gender-based preconceptions and stereotypes, encouraging the use of terms such as "sportsperson/athlete", "camera operator" and "partner" rather than "sportsman", "cameraman" or "husband/wife". It also suggests that "as far as possible women and men should be given equal exposure to ensure that the reporting is balanced between the different genders".

The annex titled 'Fair, inclusive, and non-discriminatory portrayal of transgender sportspeople and athletes with sex variations' includes a glossary with descriptions of words and phrases, such as "sex variations", "transgender", "non-binary", and "pronouns". In its section headed "Problematic Language", there is a list of "Terms to Avoid" which are "born male", "born female", "biologically male",  "biologically female", "genetically male", "genetically female", "male-to-female (MtF)", "female-to-male" (FtM), saying those phrases "can be dehumanising and inaccurate when used to describe transgender sportspeople and athletes with sex variations".

It adds, "A person’s sex category is not assigned based on genetics alone and aspects of a person’s  biology can be altered when they pursue gender-affirming  medical care." Alternatives such as "transgender girl/boy,  transgender woman/man, transgender person" are then listed.

"It is always preferable to emphasise 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 guidance continues, "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'."

In the section entitled, 'Additional wording to avoid', it lists "identifies as", detailing, "Gender identity applies to transgender people in the same way that it applies to any person. If it needs to be specified, simply  state: 'Alexia is a woman who is transgender.'" It also states that the word "transgender" should be used as an adjective rather than a noun.

The annex, written in conjunction with GLAAD, formerly the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, has attracted criticism from parties opposed to trans women competing in women's sport. Tennis great Martina Navratilova, who was attacked by the media for having same-sex relationships during her career, made her views clear on social media.

Weightlifter Laurel Hubbard was the first openly trans woman to compete at the Olympics at the Tokyo 2020 Games held in 2021. The New Zealander, who was assigned male at birth, competed in men's competitions until 2001. She transitioned 11 years later, starting hormone therapy, and competed internationally for the first time in March 2017 aged 39.

Athletes with differences of sex development, most famously Caster Semenya, have prompted the IOC and international federations to issue new criteria concerning the eligibility of those sportspeople.

The case of American swimmer Lia Thomas, who was ranked 65th in the men's 500-yard freestyle rankings but won the NCAA women's title after transitioning, led to World Aquatics banning trans women who have been through male puberty from elite women's races. Thomas went to the Court of Arbitration for Sport in January to try to overturn the ruling.