THE BIG PICTURE: Newspaper story ignites forthcoming hearing on IAAF’s regulations on female athletes

The question of whether and how the IAAF can regulate the definition of “women” in track & field is now at the boiling point, thanks to a Wednesday report in The Times (GBR).

Its story reported that the IAAF, governing body for track & field, will argue before the Court of Arbitration for Sport that South Africa’s Olympic women’s 800 m champion, Caster Semenya, and others similarly situated with hydroandrogenism, are “biological males.”

The story was highly inflammatory and was widely reported elsewhere, with the IAAF issuing a quick rebuttal:

“The IAAF is not classifying any DSD (Differences of Sexual Development) athlete as male.

“To the contrary, we accept their legal sex without question, and permit them to compete in the female category. However if a DSD athlete has testes and male levels of testosterone, they get the same increases in bone and muscle size and strength and increases in haemoglobin that a male gets when they go through puberty, which is what gives men such a performance advantage over women.

“Therefore, to preserve fair competition in the female category, it is necessary to require DSD athletes to reduce their testosterone down to female levels before they compete at international level.”

At issue are the new IAAF guidelines for athletes competing as women in events from 400 m through the mile, issued last April. Based on a commissioned study, the guidelines require female athletes who have “levels of circulating testosterone (in serum) are five (5) nmol/L or above and who [are] androgen-sensitive” to reduce their testosterone levels via medication.

The IAAF’s view is that “There is a broad medical and scientific consensus, supported by peer-reviewed data and evidence from the field, that the high levels of endogenous testosterone circulating in athletes with certain DSDs can significantly enhance their sporting performance.”

In the story in The Times, British attorney Jonathan Taylor – identified as representing the IAAF – noted that “If the CAS rules that legal recognition as female is sufficient to qualify for the female category of competition, and the IAAF is not permitted to require athletes of female legal sex who have testes and consequently male levels of testosterone to reduce those levels down to the female range, then DSD and transgender athletes will dominate the podiums and prize money in sport. Women with normal female testosterone levels will not have any chance to win.”

The IAAF also pointed out that the incidence of women with elevated testosterone levels competing in the sport is estimated at 7.1 per 1,000 women, “around 140 times what you will find in the general female population which demonstrates to us in statistical terms a recruitment bias.”

Regarding Semenya, the South African federation immediately challenged the regulations via a filing with the Court of Arbitration for Sport. The IAAF and the South African federation agreed that the new regulations – supposed to come into effect last November – would be stayed until the CAS decision is issued and that both sides would agree to abide by the CAS decision.

While the CAS hearing is supposed to start next week, it may be months before any decision is issued.