The International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) has issued new eligibility regulations for Female Classification for events ranging from 400m to the mile races and combined events over the same distances.
The new rules call for any athlete who has a Difference of Sexual Development (DSD) and one who is androgen-sensitive to meet specific criteria before participating in the restricted events – including 400m, hurdles races, 800m, 1500m, one-mile races – in an International Competition.
According to IAAF, the athlete must:
(a) be recognised at law either as female or as intersex (or equivalent);
(b) reduce her blood testosterone level to below five (5) nmol/L for a continuous period of at least six months (e.g., by use of hormonal contraceptives); and
(c) thereafter maintain her blood testosterone level below five (5) nmol/L continuously (ie: whether she is in competition or out of competition) for so long as she wishes to remain eligible.
A female with DSD means her levels of circulating testosterone (in serum) are five (5) nmol/L or above.
Approved by the IAAF Council in March, the new principles will come into effect beginning November 1, 2018, and they will overwrite the previous regulations governing the eligibility of female athletes with hyperandrogenism to compete in women’s competition, which no longer apply anywhere in the sport.
According to IAAF President Sebastian Coe, the federation wants athletes to be incentivised to make the huge commitment and sacrifice required to excel in the sport and to inspire new generations to join the sport and aspire to the same excellence.
“As the International Federation for our sport, we have a responsibility to ensure a level playing field for athletes. Like many other sports, we choose to have two classifications for our competition – men’s events and women’s events. This means we need to be clear about the competition criteria for these two categories.
Our evidence and data show that testosterone, either naturally produced or artificially inserted into the body, provides significant performance advantages in female athletes. The revised rules are not about cheating, no athlete with a DSD has cheated, they are about levelling the playing field to ensure fair and meaningful competition in the sport of athletics where success is determined by talent, dedication and hard work rather than other contributing factors,” said Sebastian.
Majority of 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 tumour. Individuals with DSDs can have very high levels of natural testosterone, extending into and even beyond the normal male range.
According to the federation, female athletes who do not wish to lower their testosterone levels will still be eligible to compete in:
(a) the female classification:
(b) in the male classification, at all competitions (whether International Competitions or otherwise), in all Track Events, Field Events, and Combined Events, including the Restricted Events; or
(c) in any applicable intersex or similar classification that may be offered, at all competitions (whether International Competitions or otherwise), in all Track Events, Field Events, and Combined Events, including the Restricted Events.
Dr Stephane Bermon from the IAAF Medical and Science Department noted that from the federation’s latest research, there is a performance advantage in female athletes with DSD over the track distances covered by the rule.
Dr Stephane said that in a decade and more of research, 7.1 in every 1000 elite female athletes in the sport have elevated testosterone levels with the majority being in the restricted events.
“This is around 140 times what you will find in the general female population which demonstrates to us in statistical terms a recruitment bias. The treatment to reduce testosterone levels is a hormone supplement like the contraceptive pill taken by millions of women around the world. No athlete will be forced to undergo surgery. It is the athlete’s responsibility, in close consultation with her medical team, to decide on her treatment.”
The regulations exist solely to ensure fair and meaningful competition within the female classification, for the benefit of the broad class of female athletes. IAAF regards it as essential to respect and preserve the dignity and privacy of athletes with DSDs, and therefore all cases arising under these regulations must be handled and resolved in a fair, consistent and confidential manner, recognising the sensitive nature of such matters.
Any breach of confidentiality, improper discrimination, and/or stigmatisation on grounds of sex or gender identity will amount to a serious breach of the IAAF Integrity Code of Conduct and will result in appropriate disciplinary action against the offending party.
Athletes, athlete support personnel and National Federation officials with questions about the application of the new Regulations or requiring advice or support can contact the IAAF Medical Manager.
All contact will be treated in confidence and if additional support is required the athlete or her representative, may agree on the appointment of an independent ombudsman to assist the athlete in understanding and addressing the requirements of the Regulations.
The Regulations also outline in detail the process by which an Expert Panel (made up of experts in the fields of endocrinology, gynaecology, genetics and paediatrics) will assess cases in anonymised form.