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Female runners must prove they are the right kind of woman to compete

Female runners with high testosterone must use hormones to reduce those levels or they will not be allowed in international races between 400m and the mile, according to an IAAF rule starting Nov. 1 2018. The IAAF ruling has set tongues wagging criticised by many on social media and by sports analysts as unfair and unjustifiable discrimination.

The global sports industry has for too long been dominated and reserved for men under the justification that women aren’t really into sports or cannot compete on the needed level. Women are forced to jump through hoops just to be considered only for there to be gross discrepancies between the incomes of male and female athletes as well as blatant objectification and harassment.

Now women must prove they are the right type of ‘woman’ to participate in athletics.  The IAAF, after funding a study along with the World Anti-Doping Agency has created a rule that forces all 400m through to the mile women competitors who are androgen-sensitive to restrict their testosterone ratio to below five which they claim is the “normal” level for most women. The study claims that women with high testosterone have up to a 4.5 percent advantage over their competition on the track.

The irony is research shows 7.1 of every 1,000 elite female track and field athletes have elevated testosterone, most of which were runners in events between 400m and the mile.

“The treatment to reduce testosterone levels is a hormone supplement similar to the contraceptive pill taken by millions of women around the world,” an IAAF doctor said in the release. “No athlete will be forced to undergo surgery.” As if to say the ingestion of hormones would not have varying effects on the women just like the contraception pill.

Women with elevated testosterone must therefore reduce their testosterone levels for six months before being eligible to run, and maintain that lowered level to compete in 400m races, including hurdles races, 800m, 1500m, one mile races and combined events over the same distances (‘Restricted Events’).

“We have a responsibility to ensure a level playing field for athletes … where success is determined by talent, dedication and hard work rather than other contributing factors,” IAAF president Sebastian Coe said in a statement.

He failed to mention these “contributing factors” also include diet, training altitudes, height, muscle mass and genetics. Will these other contributing factors also be contested?

In 2011, the IAAF enacted a rule to force athletes with hyper-androgenism to artificially lower their testosterone levels to be eligible to compete. This was challenged at the Court of Arbitration for Sport by sprinter Dutee Chand of India and overturned before the 2016 Olympics due to lack of sufficient scientific backing and therefore unjustifiable discrimination.

The case came about as acting on an anonymous tip, sporting authorities duped Dutee Chand into getting tested for hyper-androgenism. Not only was she banned from competing against other women in the Commonwealth Games, the world was suddenly questioning her gender identity and her personal life became a sham while her professional life turned messy.

The new rule aims to target several high profile athletes including South African marvel Castor Semenya. The athlete’s career has been littered with discrimination starting when officials mandated her to undergo sex testing in 2009 after she won the world 800m title by nearly 2.5 seconds at age 18.

Semenya went on to have a lull in performance after the London Games at a time when the testosterone-limiting rule was still in effect. However after CAS suspended the rule in 2015, Semenya peaked again in 2016, going undefeated in 800m races, twice breaking the national record and comfortably winning Olympic gold.

South Africa’s Olympic Committee president Gideon Sam said in a statement that his organization was “disappointed by the IAAF ruling.”

“Especially given that Caster’s name is again being dragged through the publicity mill,” he said in a press release. “We are concerned that the decisions have been approved without taking into account all factors into consideration, as these factors have not been properly nor fully ventilated. We wish to place on record that Caster Semenya has never engaged in any performance-enhancing activities and any IAAF rules limiting testosterone levels for female runners puts renewed pressure on Caster Semenya.”

Read: Twitter reacts to Lynsey Sharp’s controversial comment after Semenya’s victory

The world sporting associations seem to only be targeting women as in the case of Serena Williams’ 2017 Australian Open triumph where sports theorists said Williams’ performance was boosted by her pregnancy.

An athletic study by Lisa Jarvis in 2003 published in the Seton Hall Journal of Sports Law stated pregnancy can make a significant difference to athletic performance. “The effects of pregnancy parallel the effects of blood doping. The benefits of pregnancy include an increase in oxygen-rich blood, which in turn helps boost muscle capacity by 30 per cent; improved cardiac and lung functions; and an increase in the production of progesterone, a sex hormone that makes muscles and joints more flexible. Female hormonal changes increase aerobic fitness in the first trimester of pregnancy, when the body produces an abundance of beneficial red blood cells. In addition, the quadricep muscles in the legs become stronger.”

This however does not account for all the other Grand slams the tennis player has won while not pregnant showing a clear bias towards women with great athletic ability. For men no similar studies have been conducted or reasons sought for their stellar performance outside doping. If a man is a good athlete he is just that but if a woman is a good athlete then there has to be a reason that validates her performance.

Semenya and other female athletes must now go even further than they already do in a male dominated field just for the opportunity to participate.

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