New testosterone rules for athletes discriminatory, Ottawa group says

New rules that would prevent female athletes with high natural testosterone levels from running middle-distance races for women are discriminatory, says an Ottawa-based sports and ethics organization.

Hyperandrogenic women to be barred from middle-distance races starting Nov. 1

South Africa's Caster Semenya, seen celebrating her 800-metre win at the Commonwealth Games earlier this month, would require daily medication to lower her testosterone to continue competing in middle-distance races. (Mark Schiefelbein/Associated Press)

New rules that would prevent female athletes with high natural testosterone levels from running middle-distance races for women are discriminatory, says an Ottawa-based sports and ethics organization.

Starting Nov. 1, the International Association of Athletics Federations will limit entry for all international events from 400 metres to one mile, preventing women with certain testosterone levels from competing in those races. 

The change could force two-time Olympic 800-metre champion Caster Semenya from South Africa to stop running middle-distance races.

"I think on a human rights level, it's terribly unfair to discriminate against these women," Paul Melia, the president and chief executive of the Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport, told CBC Radio's Ottawa Morning Friday. 

"They may open the door again to sports entering into this notion of gender testing, and this has been very invasive and very humiliating."

The world governing body for athletics says female middle distance runners who have naturally high levels of testosterone will have to race against men. We get reaction from the Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport. 7:36

Previous rule challenged

Female runners with elevated levels of testosterone — a condition known as hyperandrogenism — must reduce and maintain their testosterone level six months before being eligible to run. If they don't, they have the choice to compete against males, or in events reserved for "intersex" athletes, where they exist.

They are saying they have a choice, but they don't really have a choice. The only choice they have is to take hormone therapy or have medical surgery.-  Paul Melia, Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport  

"There isn't that [intersex] category now and I don't imagine there will be in the future," Melia said.

"They also said you can compete with men which, again, [is] a non-starter," he said.

"They are saying they have a choice, but they don't really have a choice. The only choice they have is to take hormone therapy or have medical surgery."

In 2011, the IAAF enacted a similar rule forcing athletes with hyperandrogenism to artificially lower their testosterone levels to be eligible to compete. The rule was challenged at the Court of Arbitration for Sport by sprinter Dutee Chand of India and overturned before the 2016 Olympics.

The court asked for evidence, which the IAAF says it now has.

Indian athlete Dutee Chand participates in the womens 100-metre heat during the first day of the 22nd Asian Athletics Championships at Kalinga Stadium in Bhubaneswar, India, on July 6, 2017. (Dibyangshu Sarkar/AFP/Getty Images)

The new IAAF rules could yet be challenged at the court. 

"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.

"Our evidence and data show that testosterone, either naturally produced or artificially inserted into the body, provides significant performance advantages in female athletes."

'An unfair advantage'

Melia noted many high-performance athletes enjoy a natural advantage over others either due to their anatomy or because of the type of coaching or training they're able to afford. 

"Usain Bolt ​... dominated 100 metres for three Olympic cycles. Obviously there are things about his anatomy that give him a distinct advantage," Melia said. "We don't look at that and do research to try to find out why he has an advantage and then exclude him from the sport."

"Those who dominate their sports have an unfair advantage over the rest of the competitors," he added. 

CBC Radio's Ottawa Morning