News & Conflicts

The IAAF Rules That Women With Naturally High Testosterone Will Have to Take Meds or Race Men

The International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) announced new regulations that could prevent female athletes who have a condition called hyperandrogenism from competing in events ranging from 400 meters to the mile unless they reduce their blood testosterone level by taking hormonal contraceptives, such as birth control.

The new regulations requires any athlete who has a Difference of Sexual Development (DSD) that means her levels of circulating testosterone (in serum) are five (5) nmol/L or above and who is androgen-sensitive to meet the following criteria to be eligible to compete in Restricted Events in an International Competition (or set a world record in a Restricted Event at competition that is not an International Competition):

(a) she must be recognised at law either as female or as intersex (or equivalent);

(b) she must reduce her blood testosterone level to below five (5) nmol/L for a continuous period of at least six months (e.g., by use of hormonal contraceptives); and

(c) thereafter she must maintain her blood testosterone level below five (5) nmol/L continuously (ie: whether she is in competition or out of competition) for so long as she wishes to remain eligible.

To be eligible to race in future international competitions, they could be forced to take medication to lower their testosterone levels or, if they don’t want to alter their body’s chemistry, compete against men.

Many of the sport’s fans and other athletes were outraged by the announcement, arguing the regulations are discriminatory and target accomplished female athletes, such as South Africa’s Caster Semenya, a two-time Olympic gold medalist in the 800 meter. 

Semenya, who has hyperandrogenism is seeking to overturn the regulation at the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

It was intended the new rule would be brought in on 1 November last year, but the legal challenge from Semenya and ASA prompted that to be delayed until 26 March.The case will be held until Friday, with a verdict expected by 29 March.

Speaking in June, Semenya called the proposed rule “unfair”, adding: “I just want to run naturally, the way I was born.”

IAAF president Sebastian Coe in a statement said the regulations are meant to  “ensure fair and meaningful competition in the sport of athletics where success is determined by talent, dedication and hard work rather than other contributing factors. Our evidence and data show that testosterone, either naturally produced or artificially inserted into the body, provides significant performance advantages in female athletes” 

According to the statement, the regulations are not “intended as any kind of judgment on or questioning of the sex or the gender identity of any athlete.”

There are lots of other sports governing bodies, including the International Olympic Committee, that are looking at this case because they are trying to determine what to do in their sports and events over this issue.

Depending on which way it goes, it could have profound implications for the future of sport and women’s sport.

It goes to the heart of gender and identity at an elite level.

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