THE CASTER SE­MENYA DE­BATE

Top per­for­mances, based on fo­cused train­ing and re­cov­ery from in­jury? I’m not buy­ing that.

Runner's World South Africa - - Personal Best -

The in­ter­sex- ath­lete is­sue

is one of the most con­tro­ver­sial in sport, and South African Caster Se­menya has been at the fore­front of it since she won the women’s 800 me­tres at the 2009 World Cham­pi­onships.

The bungling of her case – first by Ath­let­ics South Africa, and then the IAAF – ex­posed us to the idea that a per­son can be ge­net­i­cally male or fe­male, but for rea­sons that usu­ally re­late to how the body pro­duces and uses hor­mones, they de­velop as the op­po­site sex.

Made Male

The prob­lem for sport is that this per­son may be ‘partly an­dro­genised’ – an­dro­geni­sa­tion be­ing the bi­o­log­i­cal term for ‘made male’. That’s what testos­terone gives to boys at pu­berty: deep­en­ing of the voice, hair growth, a dif­fer­ent shape of the P skele­ton, in­creased mus­cle mass and H re­duced body-fat per­cent­age. G

Some of those are ir­rel­e­vant, for AR P H sport; but low body-fat per­cent­age and B Y in­creased mus­cle mass and G strength A L are a big deal for an ath­lete, and that’s why the is­sue is con­tro­ver­sial.MI

Testos­terone gives men huge E S / per­for­mance G ad­van­tages, which E T is why the sex­esT are sep­a­rated for Y I fair­ness Mat Olympic events.

ForE decades, au­thor­i­ties have S grap­pled with whether these women – who live in so­ci­ety as fe­male, so that is their gender – should com­pete in women’s sport.

That all came to a head in 2015, when an In­dian in­ter­sex sprinter, Du­tee Chand, went to the Court of Ar­bi­tra­tion for Sport (CAS) to have them over­turn the IAAF pol­icy that (at that time) re­quired her to take med­i­ca­tion to lower her testos­terone lev­els to com­pete.

The Up­per Limit

Af­ter the Se­menya de­ba­cle in 2009, the IAAF had come up with a new pol­icy that would not ex­pose women to the kind of in­va­sive test­ing Se­menya un­der­went. In­stead of do­ing ‘gender ver­i­fi­ca­tion’ test­ing, the IAAF had set an up­per limit for testos­terone, since this was the root cause of the per­ceived ad­van­tage.

Based on some test­ing of fe­male ath­letes, and data from men and women, they de­cided on an up­per limit of 10nmol/L – any fe­male who had a T level above 10 would have to take med­i­ca­tion to lower it. For ref­er­ence, 99% of elite fe­male ath­letes have a T level be­low 3.1nmol/L, so the up­per limit was three times higher than 99% of women’s testos­terone.

That was the so-called ‘hyper­an­dro­genism’ pol­icy that Chand chal­lenged at CAS. She won. CAS ruled that, at the time, there was in­suf­fi­cient ev­i­dence to de­fend what was a dis­crim­i­na­tory rule (be­cause it ap­plied to women only, and Euro­pean law came into it). CAS gave the IAAF two years to look for bet­ter ev­i­dence, and a more sound ar­gu­ment, and that two-year pe­riod has now ex­pired.

The IAAF pub­lished their ev­i­dence ear­lier this year in a sci­en­tific jour­nal. They showed that women with higher lev­els of T (but still nor­mal) had a per­for­mance ad­van­tage of 2% to 5% in some, but not all events.

Pre­vi­ous IAAF ev­i­dence on this had also showed that nine of the women par­tic­i­pat­ing in the 2011 and 2013 World Cham­pi­onships were in­ter­sex, which is a con­sid­er­ably higher pro­por­tion than you’d find in the non-ath­letic world, fur­ther sug­gest­ing a ben­e­fit.

Will That Be Enough?

Will that con­vince CAS that the pol­icy is needed? I doubt it. CAS made clear in their pre­vi­ous de­ci­sion that they were look­ing for a ‘large’ ad­van­tage, com­pa­ra­ble to what men en­joy over women in sport. That’s around 10% to 12%, so I think the IAAF ev­i­dence falls short of that.

But who knows? I thought CAS were wrong the first time round, and it wouldn’t sur­prise me if they changed their rul­ing now – for shaky rea­sons, given the le­gal process last time. If they did, and those women with high T have to go back onto med­i­ca­tion, then I’ve no doubt they’ll all slow down con­sid­er­ably.

The con­tro­versy, on the other hand, is un­likely to slow down.

Un­fair ad­van­tage: Low body-fat per­cent­age and in­creased mus­cle mass and strength are a big deal for an ath­lete.

RW Sci­en­tific Ed­i­tor Dr Ross Tucker has a BSc ( Med) ( Hons) Ex­er­cise Sci­ence De­gree and PhD from the Sports Sci­ence In­sti­tute. Visit him at www. sports­s­ci­en­tists. com.

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