The End Of Women’s Sports As We Know It? Is Caster Semenya The Favorite For Gold For The 2016 Olympics? The Court Of Arbitration For Sport Suspends IAAF’s Hyperandrogenism Regulations

July 29, 2015

On Monday, the Court of Arbitration for Sport issued a surprising decision which will temporarily end women’s sports as we know them and could permanently end them.

In a case involving hyperandrogenic Indian sprinter Dutee Chand, the Court said that Chand is free to compete as a woman and then went further by suspending the IAAF’s hyperandrogenism policy for up to two years. If, after two years, the IAAF cannot provide better support for the policy, CAS will abolish it.

According to an IAAF statement, the court acknowledged the “IAAF and its experts have ‘acted with conspicuous diligence and good faith,’ seeking ‘to create a system of rules that are fair, objective and founded on the best available science,’ and that those rules ‘have been administered in confidence and with care and compassion.'” But the court also said there is no proven scientific evidence that the IAAF’s regulations, which barred women from competing unless they got their serum testosterone below 10 nmol/L or more, were scientifically valid and thus suspended them.

If you want the details of the case, we suggest you read the following:

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*NY Times Recap of Decision
*CAS Press Release on its 2-year suspension of IAAF Hyperandrogenism regulations
*Full CAS Chand Decision
*IAAF comments on interim award issued by the CAS on the IAAF’s Hyperandrogenism Regulations

If you think we are exaggerating by using the phrase “ending women’s sports as we know them,” then please read this NY Times article by Julie Macur. In an article where Macur says “it was hard not to celebrate Chand’s victory, given that all she wanted to do was compete with the body she was born with,” Macur quotes, Dr. Eric Vilain, a medical geneticist at U.C.L.A., as saying the following about the CAS decision:

“For me, this is a victory of identity politics and activism. Now I’m really worried about the future of women in sports because if we push this argument, anyone declaring a female gender can compete as a woman. We’re moving toward one big competition, and the very predictable result of that competition is that there will be no women winners.”

Quick Thought #1: This Is A Very Difficult and Sensitive Issue But The Court’s Logic Is Flawed – It Would Have Been Much Better To Keep The Regulations in Place and Give The IAAF Two Years to Come Up With Scientific Evidence

We understand why the court is hesitant to bar hyperandrogenic athletes from competition without proven “scientific evidence about the quantitative relationship between enhanced testosterone levels and improved athletic performance in hyperandrogenic athletes” but it seems to us a far better plan would be to keep the regulations intact and give the IAAF two years to come up with the evidence.

Years of steroid abuse and common sense show that testosterone has a huge impact on performance. Just because there aren’t scores of scientific papers on hyperandrogenic athletes doesn’t mean the well-thought-out regulations should be discarded. The IAAF’s rules certainly pass the common sense test of being fair whereas the CAS decision does not (see point #2). The normal female range of serum testosterone is approximately 0.1 – 2.8 nmol/L. The normal male range is above 10.5 nmol/L. The IAAF had barred any hyperandrogenic women from competing unless their levels were reduced to below 10 nmol/L.

Quick Thought #2: In Trying To Protect A Very Small Number of People, CAS May Be Hurting Many More

If all hyperandrogenic women with a testosterone level above 10 nmol/L were barred from competing until the science behind the rule is totally proven, it would only impact a handful of women like Chand. If, in the interim, hyperanadrogenic women are allowed to compete and they dominate like Caster Semenya did before her treatment, then scores of women (all the people losing the races) will be impacted.

To harm many to help a few is illogical.

In defending its decision, CAS says the IAAF’s hyperandrogenism policy is discriminatory because the testosterone rules apply only to women (and not to men) and since the athletes in question are legal females, any athlete disqualified by the hyperandrogenism (HA) policy cannot compete as male.

Perhaps there is an easy solution to these arguments – let hyperandrogenic women compete in the men’s division. If semantics need to be changed for this to take place legally, so be it.

While hyperandrogenic women are legally female, most people would clearly accept a rule that defines a woman for sports competition as those without testicles – either external or internal. Or perhaps men’s competition needs to be relabeld as the “open competition” and then women’s competition to “those with serum testosterone below 10 nmol/L.”

Quick Thought #3: It Might Be Difficult For The IAAF To Scientifically Prove The Testosterone is The Key Ingredient for The Hyperandorgenic Women’s Success As There Aren’t That Many Hyperandorgenic Athletes to Study

It seems to us the most convincing proof is how drastic the decline in performance of hyperandorgenic athletes who have been treated, with Caster Semenya being the most public example (but we understand the IAAF has quietly treated others), has been.

Quick Thought #4: Is Caster Semenya The Favorite For the 2016 Olympic Gold Medal in The Women’s 800?

Before she was treated for her hyperandrogenic condition, Caster Semenya was a 1:55 performer in the women’s 800. Nowadays, she can’t break 2:02. While it’s not publicly known if she has been treated surgically or hormonally, if she was just treated hormonally (a hormonal treatment is temporary, a surgical removal of internal testes would be permanent), it won’t take her (or any of the other women that many believe were hyperandrogenic in the women’s 800) long to regain much of her old form.

We reached out to The Sports Gene author David Esptein and asked him how long he thought it would take for a hyperandrogenic woman to see her testosterone levels return to above 10 nmol/L once hormonal treatment was stopped.

“I’m sorry to say I don’t know how long it would take for testosterone to rise after cessation of suppression therapy,” wrote Epstein in an email, “but that could be a really difficult thing to figure out. I’m not sure many people have ever been in that situation.”

Now we’ve been told that Semenya has recently been suffering from a slew of injuries of late (perhaps the result of overtraining as she’d need to train much harder to try to replicate old results when she had more testosterone) but if healthy and not surgically different than she was when she burst on the scene, then she (or any other hyperandrogenic women who once were burgeoning stars but are largely not factors now) could be a factor in 2016.

The good news for fans of women’s athletics is we’ve been told that the CAS ruling doesn’t apply to the IOC which runs the Olympics – at least not yet.


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Related Articles from the LRC Vault: 2014: A Brief History of Intersex Athletes in Sport by Joanna Harper Harper is a medical physicist and runner in Portland OR. She ran a 2:23 marathon as “a young man”, and has won six age group national titles as “an old lady”. She is currently writing a book on gender variance in sport.

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