World Athletics Won’t Correct DSD Discriminating Rules
World Athletics president Sebastian Coe says the rules against female athletes with high testosterone levels are “here to stay.” His statement comes just three days after World Athletics backtracked on their controversial “scientific” claims made in 2017 that caused Olympian Caster Semenya and others to be banned from competing in the 800-meter run at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
Despite the scrutiny the study has faced before the Tokyo Olympics, it wasn’t until now that the British Journal of Sports Medicine published a correction about the 2017 research stating that the studies “could have been misleading” and were “exploratory.” The correction that came just over a week after the Olympic Games left many calling for suspension over the testosterone rules against athletes with DSD.
What are the World Athletics Testosterone Study and Rules?
The 2017 research published by the British Journal of Sports Medicine analyzed testosterone levels in female athletes with Differences of Sexual Development (DSD) and its connection with enhanced athletic performance among elite female athletes. DSD can make a female’s hormones, genes, and reproductive organs have both male and female characteristics.
The original study, made by two World Athletics scientists, led to a change in eligibility rules and regulations that restricted female athletes with DSD from competing in track distances from 400 meters to one mile. This meant that under the restriction of world track and field’s governing body rules, Semenya, a three-time World Champion in the women’s 800 meters and two-time Olympic gold medalist, no longer had a chance of defending her Olympic gold. She was forced out of the 800 meters.
The 30-year-old of South Africa, who was born a woman and is recognized at law as female, is one of many intersex female athletes with DSD who were affected by the regulations. Namibian runners Christine Mboma and Beatrice Masilingi, both 18, were banned from competing in the 400m at the Tokyo Olympics because of their high testosterone levels.
Restrictions based on the study on worldathletics.org state:
“Most females (including elite female athletes) have low levels of testosterone circulating naturally in their bodies (0.12 to 1.79 nmol/L in the blood); while after puberty, the normal male range is much higher (7.7 – 29.4 nmol/L). No female would have serum levels of natural testosterone at 5 nmol/L or above unless they have DSD or a tumor. Individuals with DSDs can have very high levels of natural testosterone, extending into and even beyond the normal male range.”
These rules require female athletes with DSD to “reduce their blood testosterone level to below five (5) nmol/L for a continuous period of at least six months” through treatment of “a hormone supplement similar to the contraceptive pill.” They are also given two other options to lower their testosterone levels by having testosterone-blocking injections or undergoing surgery.
World Athletics Makes ‘Correction’ to Their Study
According to the New York Times, “the scientists acknowledged that the assertion in the 2017 study that intersex athletes “have a significant competitive advantage” over female athletes with lower testosterone levels in certain events should be amended to say that, based on a lower level of evidence, higher testosterone levels “were associated with higher athletic performance.” They say that their findings should be viewed as “exploratory, nothing else, that is, not confirmatory or evidence for a causal relationship.”
Caster Semenya Appeals DSD Restrictions
Following the correction, Semenya and her legal representatives want answers. Semenya’s lawyer Gregory Nott of Norton Rose Fulbright spoke with the Telegraph on Tuesday, exclaiming his hopes that World Athletics agrees to withdraw their regulations and lift the ban.
Nott said, “World Athletics has recently given notice of their wish to intervene in the European Court of Human Rights proceedings, and we would hope that they will now support setting aside the regulations.
“It is more than surprising that World Athletics did not reveal this evidence before the recent Tokyo Olympics and allow Caster to defend her 800m title.”
But Coe, who spoke with BBC Sports early Saturday, said, “There are 10 years of solid science that underpins the regulations.”
“I am sorry if there are athletes who have been misled by self-interested and conflicted observations often by lawyers. The reality is that the rules are here to stay.”
In a competition that has disqualified many athletes who have used drugs prohibited in competition, it is ironic that the sport seems to encourage drug use for eligibility to run at the Olympics.
Semenya has refused to take any medication to reduce her naturally high testosterone levels. She and her lawyers have challenged the World Athletics rules twice before at Switzerland’s Federal Supreme Court, losing both legal battles.
At her last denied court appeal before the Tokyo Games, Semenya stated, “I refuse to let World Athletics drug me or stop me from being who I am…Excluding female athletes or endangering our health solely because of our natural abilities puts World Athletics on the wrong side of history.”
But, it’s too late for Semenya and her other competitors. Semenya, forced out of the 800 meters run, tried her luck at qualifying for the 5,000 meters but was ultimately absent from the games “after unsuccessful challenges against the regulations at the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) and Switzerland’s supreme court” earlier this year.
Semenya previously competed at the 2012 London Olympics and the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro. She is now awaiting a hearing at the European Court of Human Rights.