Road To The Olympic Games

Track and Field

IAAF rules to limit testosterone levels for female runners

New rules for female athletes with high natural testosterone levels which could force two-time Olympic 800-meter champion Caster Semenya to stop running middle-distance races.

Move could force Olympic champ Semenya to forgo middle-distance races

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 for female athletes with high natural testosterone levels which could force two-time Olympic 800-metre champion Caster Semenya to stop running middle-distance races.

From Nov. 1, the IAAF will limit entry for all international events from 400m through the mile to women with testosterone levels below a specified level.

Women with elevated testosterone must reduce their level for "six months (e.g., by use of hormonal contraceptives)" before being eligible to run, and maintain that lowered level.

"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."

Semenya would need daily medication

Semenya now faces taking daily medication or start racing at 5,000. Without the rules, the 27-year-old South African would likely defend her 800 world title in Doha, Qatar, next year. She also took bronze in the 1,500 at the 2017 worlds in London.

In 2011, the IAAF enacted a rule to force athletes with hyperandrogenism to artificially lower their testosterone levels to be eligible to compete. Two years earlier, Semenya clocked one minute 55 seconds to win her first world title as a teenager in Berlin. While the previous rules were enforced, her season-best times were around 1:59 or slower.

The previous rules were challenged at the Court of Arbitration for Sport by sprinter Dutee Chand of India and overturned before the 2016 Olympics. In Rio, Semenya retained her Olympic title, running 1:55.28.

The new IAAF rules could yet be challenged at CAS.

Still, the IAAF said Thursday there is "broad medical and scientific consensus, supported by peer-reviewed data and evidence" to back its position.

"There is a performance advantage in female athletes with DSD (Differences of Sexual Development) over the track distances covered by this rule," Dr. Stephane Bermon, who works in the IAAF medical and science department, said in the statement.

Research over a decade showed 7.1 in every 1,000 elite track and field athletes had elevated testosterone levels — 140 times greater than the female population.

"The treatment to reduce testosterone levels is a hormone supplement similar to the contraceptive pill taken by millions of women around the world," Bermon said. "No athlete will be forced to undergo surgery."

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