Tuesday, October 19, 2021

IWG and IAAF lock horns as DSD debate heats up

The International Working Group (IWG) on Women and Sports has set up a task force to meet with the IAAF medical team over the IAAF’s new eligibility regulations for female classification.

In a move widely criticised by women in sports groups, the IAAF early this month (May) passed new regulations for athletes with ‘Differences of Sexual Development’ (DSD) or hyperandrogenism. Under the new regulations, which the IAAF says are meant to ‘ensure a level playing field for athletes,’ female athletes with high testosterone levels will have to take ‘a hormone supplement similar to the contraceptive pill,’ to lower their testosterone levels.

The new regulations have been criticised by, among others, former Australian 800m athlete Madeleine Pape. Pape, who was one of the fiercest critics of Caster Semenya when she was competing against her during the World Championships in 2009, has described the new regulations as discriminatory.

The former athlete said this when co-facilitating a session titled “The High T Anxiety: The Controversial New Policy of The IAAF” during the IWG Conference on 20th May in Gaborone.

“I was among the athletes in Berlin in 2009 who were quick to conclude during the days that followed this particular race that Semenya’s athletic abilities were unfair. I assumed just like others around me that harmful rumours circulating about Semenya were probably justified and that Semenya did not fit in the category of normal female athletes,” she explained.

“I am ashamed to say I was amongst these naysayers, those people who held hurtful, narrow and discriminatory and frankly uninformed opinions about Semenya and other athletes assumed to have high testosterone levels,” she continued.

Now pursuing a Doctor of Philosophies (PhD) in Sociology, Pape said she has since learnt that there is lack of scientific evidence to ascertain that ‘the level of testosterone determines how well a person does as an athlete.’

“The IAAF scientific perspective on this issue is quiet one scientific perspective and I have problems with it. Scientists elsewhere have pointed these problems out,” she said.

Pape said the regulations may also infringe on human rights, more especially the rights to recognition.

“To me, we are all women. A woman who has high testosterone is as much a woman as I am. There is no hierarchy here and if I am prepared to recognise a woman with high testosterone as a woman outside sports, I cannot then turn around and say there are different rules when it comes to sports. The rules cannot be different,” she said.

Reached for comment, IWG Gaborone 2017 Secretary General Game Mothibi, who is part of the newly formed IWG task force tasked with making a position paper on the matter, said they intend to engage the IAAF over the issue.

Mothibi said as IWG, they feel that the regulations should not seem targeted at certain individuals, but rather should address the issues of ‘levelling the playing field across sport.’

“What is surprising is that only women are subjected to such scrutiny and classification based on their levels of testosterone while there is no such concern to males on the same basis,” she said.

Mothibi further added that as the task force commissioned to write the IWG position paper, they will start working on the paper as early as this week. She said they will consult with other women sports groups and organisations that share the same views with them so that they can speak in one voice on the matter.

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