What The New Testosterone Rule Means For Women Athletes

Photo: Mark Kolbe/Getty Images.
The International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) ruled on Wednesday that women athletes who have high testosterone levels will have to take hormone-suppressing drugs in order to be eligible to participate in major competitions, including the Olympics. Along with the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), the IAAF said in a press release that their regulations are "a necessary, reasonable and proportionate means of achieving the IAAF's legitimate aim of preserving the integrity of female athletics in the Restricted Events."
This decision comes after South African Olympic track star, Caster Semenya, appealed to the sports governing body, arguing that "femininity testing" requirements were discriminatory. Semenya, who is 28 years old and has won two Olympic gold medals in the 800-meter event, has a health condition that causes her to produce more testosterone than most cisgender women, called hyperandrogenism. Due to her high levels of testosterone, Semenya was suspended from competition for eight months in 2009.
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"I know the IAAF's regulations have always targeted me specifically," Semenya said in a statement. "For a decade the IAAF has tried to slow me down, but this has actually made me stronger. The decision of the CAS will not hold me back. I will once again rise above and continue to inspire young women and athletes in South Africa and around the world." Indeed, this is not the first time she has been a target for ridicule and unfair policies. In the past, the general secretary of the IAAF said about Semenya: "She is a woman, but maybe not 100%."
According to these new rules, athletes have seven days to lower their testosterone levels below 5 nmol/L, the restricted limit as decided by the IAAF in 2018. If their T levels are higher, they can be disqualified from competitions. To put that in perspective, 5 nmol/L is three times greater than the upper limit of normal testosterone in women, Clare Flannery, MD, an endocrinologist at Yale School of Medicine, told Refinery29. Considering testosterone can aid in muscle growth and oxygen-carrying capacity, the rationale is that athletes — specifically track athletes — could have an upper hand during competition. However, some say that testosterone isn't the most useful metric to level the playing field, because there's not enough evidence that "differences of sexual development" would benefit athletes in all other events.
Ultimately, this was a disappointing loss that could affect athletes' futures, not to mention has widespread implications for budding athletes who are intersex or transgender. At the moment, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) told CNN that they were working on developing their own guidelines in order to "shape sport specific policies and regulations in relation to fairness, safety and inclusivity and non-discrimination on the basis of gender identity and sex characteristics."
On Twitter, after the decision was announced on Wednesday, Semenya posted a quote on Twitter: "Sometimes it's better to react with no reaction."
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