IAAF New Rule on Ambiguous Sexual Identity for Female Athletes

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Ordinarily, having a feminine genitals or physiology should suffice for competing in female athletics but there is more these days than meet the eyes. Surprisingly, female’s androgyny is now to be considered. That is the degree to which someone blends feminine and masculine traits to give an impression of ambiguous sexual identity. Most of the times the fellow appears neither male nor female.

Science taught us of oestrogen and testosterone which are female and male hormones respectively. There are numerous cases where low levels of testosterone is found in the blood serum of female at about 0.12 to 1.79 nmol/L which is natural and normal. After puberty, a normal male would have from 7.7 to 29.4 nmol/L testosterone circulating in their body. However, according to the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF), research has shown a number of female athlethes having up to 5 nmol/L serum level of natural testosterone. This discovery is termed, Difference of Sexual Development (DSD).

The IAAF according to a press release published on its website said, "There is a broad medical and scientific concensus supported by peer-reviewed data and evidence from the field, that the high levels of endogenous testosterone circulating in athletes with certain DSDs can significantly enhance their sporting performance."

In view of the foregoing, IAAF has now created a distinct female category covering from 400m to the miles races. This category is now regarded as Restricted Events. Female athletes who seek to compete in this category must do so in compliance with the new rules and regulations to become effective November 1, 2018.

IAAF Difference of Sexual Development (DSD) Rules

Any female athlete with DSD who wishes to participate in Restricted Events in an international competition or set a world record at a non-international competition must meet the following eligibility criteria.

  • She must be recognized at law either as a female or as intersex (or equivalent);
  • She must reduce her blood testosterone level to below 5 nmol/L for a continuous period of at least six months (e.g, by use of hormonal contraceptives); and
  • She must maintain her blood testosterone level below 5nmol/L continuously for as long as she wishes to remain eligible.

IAAF did submit though, that the rule was not because some DSD female athletes had cheated but to create a level playing ground for all, making the games as fair as possible. They also said that the new development is not intended at any kind of judgment on or questioning of the gender identity of any athlete.

Expectedly, IAAF presumed that not all DSDs would oblige to reducing their testosterone level and they are not forcing anyone to do so. So, athletes of this sort can participate in any of three classifications namely:

  • the female classification: provided that the game is non-international or excluding the Restricted Events if it were international game.
  • the male classification: such female would have to compete with males in games including the Restricted Events and at international levels.
  • any applicable intersex or similar classification that may be offered,

Athletes Affected by the New IAAF Rules

The obvious target of IAAF DSD regulation could be no other but Caster Semenya of South Africa who has been in the news since the World Championship 2009 at age 18. She took the world by storm, winning the 800m in 1:55:45 and was forced to undergo gender test. After her clearance, she went ahead in London 2012, African Championship 2016, Rio 2016, World Championship London 2017, and most recently Commonwealth Games Sydney 2018, winning gold and silver medals in 800m and 1500m spree. Her powerful physique and deep voice have been a cause of controversy and contest among fellow athletes. Tests confirmed her to be hyperandrogynous. Is this new rule going to slow Semanya down or would she agree to compete with males? We keep our fingers crossed.


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