Testos­terone a sig­nif­i­cant boost for women ath­letes

Kuwait Times - - HEALTH & SCIENCE -

Women run­ners born with high testos­terone lev­els en­joy a “sig­nif­i­cant com­pet­i­tive ad­van­tage”, said a study yes­ter­day that could reignite de­bate on the fu­ture par­tic­i­pa­tion of ath­letes whose gen­der was ques­tioned. The study, jointly spon­sored by the sport­ing agency seek­ing to ban ath­letes with hy­per­an­dro­genism, comes three weeks be­fore the In­ter­na­tional As­so­ci­a­tion of Athletics Fed­er­a­tions (IAAF) must present ex­pert ev­i­dence on “the ac­tual de­gree” of ad­van­tage women could gain.

Hy­per­an­dro­genism is a con­di­tion that causes high nat­u­ral lev­els of the male hor­mone, testos­terone, in women. With­out proof, IAAF reg­u­la­tions ex­clud­ing women with hy­per­an­dro­genism from com­pe­ti­tion are set to lapse. Track stars such as South Africa’s Caster Se­menya and In­dia’s Du­tee Chand both en­dured ban­ish­ment for fail­ing so-called “gen­der tests”. The new study, pub­lished in the Bri­tish Jour­nal of Sports Medicine, was funded by the IAAF and the World An­ti­Dop­ing Agency (WADA).

One of the au­thors, Stephane Ber­mon, is an IAAF con­sul­tant and a mem­ber of its work­ing group on hy­per­an­dro­genic ath­letes. The other, Pierre-Yves Garnier, is di­rec­tor of the IAAF’s health and science depart­ment. He re­turned to work in Jan­uary af­ter a three-month sus­pen­sion in a probe linked to Rus­sian athletics dop­ing. Their re­search re­lied on blood data from male and fe­male ath­letes who com­peted in the World Cham­pi­onships in 2011 and 2013 — more than 2,100 sam­ples in all.

It found that women with high nat­u­ral testos­terone lev­els per­formed bet­ter in the 400-me­tre sprint, 400 m hur­dles, and 800 m mid­dle-dis­tance events than women with low lev­els. They also out­per­formed them at pole-vault­ing and ham­mer throw. De­pend­ing on the event, per­for­mance im­proved by be­tween 1.8 and 4.5 per­cent, the pa­per said.

This link, con­cluded the au­thors, “should be taken into ac­count when the el­i­gi­bil­ity of women with hy­per­an­dro­genism to com­pete in the fe­male cat­e­gory of com­pe­ti­tion is dis­cussed.” The study is an ob­ser­va­tional study that can­not de­ter­mine con­clu­sively that higher testos­terone is what causes the per­for­mance boost, merely that an in­crease in one is as­so­ci­ated with an in­crease in the other.

Un­fair or dis­crim­i­na­tory?

Testos­terone, which can also be in­jected as a per­for­mance-en­hancer, in­creases mus­cle mass and boosts phys­i­cal strength. The is­sue of hy­per­an­dro­genism is con­tro­ver­sial be­cause it has pit­ted prin­ci­ples of fair com­pe­ti­tion against the rights of women born with a con­di­tion they have no con­trol over. In 2011, the IAAF in­tro­duced so-called “hy­per­an­dro­genism reg­u­la­tions” af­ter a highly-emo­tive and pub­lic bat­tle with South Africa’s Se­menya.

The reg­u­la­tions al­lowed hy­per­an­dro­genic ath­letes to take med­i­ca­tion to lower their testos­terone lev­els to be­low 10 nanomoles per liter-con­sid­ered a low level in men. The nat­u­ral range for women is about 10 times lower. Se­menya won gold in the 800 m at the 2009 World Cham­pi­onships in Ber­lin, but was sub­se­quently barred from com­pet­ing for nearly a year while un­der­go­ing gen­der tests. Com­peti­tors say hy­per­an­dro­genic ath­letes en­joy an un­fair phys­i­cal ad­van­tage, but crit­ics say gen­der test­ing is ar­bi­trary, dis­crim­i­na­tory and psy­cho­log­i­cally harm­ful.

In 2015, the Court of Ar­bi­tra­tion for Sport (CAS) sus­pended the IAAF reg­u­la­tions in a chal­lenge brought on be­half of In­dia’s Chand, a sprinter. It said there was not suf­fi­cient sci­en­tific ev­i­dence that nat­u­ral testos­terone boosts per­for­mance in hy­per­an­dro­genic women, and gave the agency two years to sub­mit ex­pert re­ports to the con­trary.

The dead­line of July 27 is fast ap­proach­ing. “Our start­ing po­si­tion is to de­fend, pro­tect and pro­mote fair fe­male com­pe­ti­tion,” an IAAF state­ment quoted Ber­mon as say­ing yes­ter­day. “This study is one part of the ev­i­dence the IAAF will be sub­mit­ting to the CAS,” he added. There would be no im­pact on the World Cham­pi­onships in Lon­don in Au­gust, as the reg­u­la­tions re­main sus­pended “pend­ing the res­o­lu­tion of the CAS pro­ceed­ing”, the as­so­ci­a­tion said.—AFP

NEW DELHI: This file photo shows Du­tee Chand of Odisha tak­ing part in the 100 me­ter race dur­ing 20th Fed­er­a­tion Cup Na­tional Se­nior Athletics Cham­pi­onship in New Delhi. —AFP

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