Human Rights Watch calls for withdrawal of IAAF female classification regulations

Photo: citizen 59/Flickr

Caster Semenya at the 2011 World Championships. Photo: Flickr/Citizen59


By Luca Arfini
In a letter to the IAAF President, Human Rights Watch asks the international athletics federation to “urgently revoke” new eligibility regulations. According to the human rights organisation they violate women’s fundamental rights.

In a letter sent last week to IAAF president, Sebastian Coe, Human Rights Watch (HRW) now call for the withdrawal of IAAF new regulations for female classification claiming that they violate women’s internationally protected fundamental rights; discriminating them on both their sex and their sex characteristics.

The new regulations published by IAAF in April and entering into force from November were intended to guarantee a fair competition with the correct placement of each athlete in the appropriate category; establishing that women athletes, to compete in the female category for events from 400 meters to the mile, should maintain their occurring blood testosterone level below five (5) nmol/L.

Accordingly, female athletes suffering from hyperandrogenism and having a high level of testosterone will have to reduce it for a continuous period of at least six months to compete with other women; otherwise, they could race only against men or other ‘intersex’ athletes.

“The IAAF seeks to place conditions on participation only to the extent necessary to ensure fair and meaningful competition. As a result, the IAAF has issued these Regulations, to facilitate the participation in the sport of athletes with DSDs,” IAAF states in its new regulations.

However, HRW claims that the regulations are introduced without scientific justification and therefore are an unfair hindrance to the participation of female athletes suffering from hyperandrogenism.

“They do effectively force some women with intersex traits (or differences of sex development) to chose between undergoing medically unnecessary intervention to lower their testosterone levels or be precluded from participating in international sport,” writes HRW referring to a longer analysis.

“As outlined in the attached analysis, we believe the IAAF regulations encourage violations of internationally-protected human rights, including the rights to privacy, health, bodily integrity, dignity, and non-discrimination,“ the letter continues.

According to HRW the regulations also provide the authority of the IAAF medical manager to make an arbitrary surveillance of women athletes’ bodies suspected to have intersex variations, although the criteria for identifying athletes with intersex variations are not clearly described in the rules. According to to the HRW, this is a clear example of how they discriminate women simply because of their sex as no such scrutiny is applied to men’s bodies.

Conclusively, the HRW’s letter ends asking the IAAF to “urgently revoke these regulations”.

The Caster Semenya case
The debate on this issue is quite complex because it involves both ethical and medical concerns regarding the treatment of women with a high level of testosterone.

As identified in an academic article on the topic by a group of medical and legal scholars: “Those who become subject to investigation express little doubt about their femininity and/or womanhood. The discovery and diagnosis of a disorder of sex development (DSD) will likely come as a severe shock, and the potential for harm is not a trivial matter.”

Of the same opinion is the Olympic 800m champion Caster Semenya, who, according to the Guardian, could be slowed up to seven seconds by the new IAAF’s regulations.

After an examination of her eligibility, conducted after her gold medal run at the 2009 World Championships in Berlin, she affirmed: “Since my victory in the female 800 meter event at the Berlin World Championships in August last year, I have been subjected to unwarranted and invasive scrutiny of the most intimate and private details of my being.”

This June she decided to challenge IAAF’s new rules to the Court of Arbitration for Sport in Lausanne, classifying them as “discriminatory” and “irrational”.

"I am very upset that I have been pushed into the public spotlight again. I don’t like talking about this new rule. I just want to run naturally, the way I was born. It is not fair that I am told I must change. It is not fair that people question who I am. I am Mokgadi Caster Semenya. I am a woman and I am fast," Semenya declared in a statement.

More information

Find the IAAF's new regulations here.
Find the HRW's letter here.
Find the article about the IAAF's new regulations here.
Find the article about Caster Semenya taking the IAAF's rules to CAS here.
  • Georg Facius, Denmark, 06.08.2018 14:13:

    The issue raised here is the latest blunder in a very long and very sad story, which can be read below.


    Georg M. Facius Denmark 2008


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