Just let women be women - IAAF gender policies continue to reek of discrimination

By Melissa Talbert September 16, 2020

 In general, the idea of what a woman should look has become a problematic issue, increasingly within our current societal framework.  In athletics, it seems to be no different.

Women’s tennis legend Serena Williams once said: “I think of all the girls who could become top athletes but quit sports because they’re afraid of having too many defined muscles, being made fun of, or called unattractive.”

While not implicitly stated, appearances are also judged and discriminated against in athletics.  Women with conditions like hyperandrogenism tend to have bigger muscles due to high natural levels of testosterone and are as such, in my opinion, singled out for discrimination by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) rules.  Despite the fact that it is how they were born.

  In fact, women who compete with such conditions can be subject to gender verification testing should ‘suspicions’ arise. Hyperandrogenism or androgen excess is a medical condition characterized by excessive levels of testosterone in the body and the condition affects approximately 1% of elite female athletes.  Such embarrassing stipulations not only serve as a barrier to some women competing but also as a deterrent to getting involved in the first place.

In a recent chat with the Olympic Channel, Jamaican sprinter Elaine Thompson-Herah credited fellow athlete Dutee Chand for helping put India on the global athletics stage.

Thompson-Herah gushed over the idea of athletes from other countries vying to claim a space on the global athletics map, in hopes of proudly representing themselves and their country.

“As an athlete, I think that is really exciting and great to see them coming in to deliver and perform well,” said the Olympic champion.

Having come from an impoverished community to become one of the world’s best, Thompson-Herah knows all about challenges.  Even now she battles with a nagging Achilles injury that has affected her for a good portion of her career.

For athletes like Chand, the list of obstacles can be even longer.  Thompson-Herah pointed to the athlete’s first language as another likely barrier to perhaps sharing nuggets of wisdom.

“English is not the native language for her,” Thompson-Herah explained.

“It is kind of hard to translate everything to another person who doesn't speak English, but Dutee is getting to know more and getting better each time.”

But in her short time competing as an athlete she has overcome an even bigger one.  One that were it not for her grit and determination, could have meant the end of her competing.

In June 2014, after she won two gold medals at the Asian Junior Athletics Championships in the 200 metres and 4 × 400 m relays, Chand was dropped from the 2014 Commonwealth Games contingent at the last minute after the Athletic Federation of India revealed that hyperandrogenism made her ineligible to compete as a female athlete.  Chand challenged the gender testing policies and on July 26, 2015, the court ruled in favour.  The IAAF, as a result, temporarily suspended the hyperandrogenism regulations.

Consequently, she qualified for the 2016 Olympic games without having to alter her natural hormone levels.

The issue was, however, far from concluded. After further analysis in April 2018, the IAAF announced new eligibility regulations for female runners setting an upper testosterone limit, which applied to the 400m, 800m, and 1500m events.  Chand was left unaffected by the revised regulations and has her eyes set on the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.  The rule amendment did, however, impact another woman, South African middle-distance runner Caster Semenya. 

The three-time World Championship gold medallist and two times Olympic champion could no longer compete in her preferred 800m event after the new IAAF "differences of sex development" rules that required athletes with specific disorders of sex development, testosterone levels of 5 nmol/L and above, and certain androgen sensitivity, take medication to lower their testosterone levels.  Semenya, like Chand, contested the decision but lost the case at both the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) and appeal at the Federal Supreme Court of Switzerland.  She has considered switching to the 200m event.

September is Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) awareness month.  PCOS is a hormonal disorder common among women of reproductive age and is one of the conditions that can affect these elite athletes.  When women have PCOS, they may have excess male hormone (androgen) levels.

Sports governing bodies should accept the fact that some women naturally produce higher levels of testosterone and those who do should be allowed to compete. When will women just be allowed to be women?

Please share your thoughts on Twitter (@SportsMax_Carib) or in the comments section on Facebook (@SportsMax). Don’t forget to use #IAmNotAFan. Until next time!

 

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