Volume: 15 Issue: 7
New research that will form part of the evidence that the International Association of Athletics Federations (‘IAAF’) is preparing in support of its currently suspended Hyperandrogenism Regulations, entitled ‘Serum androgen levels and their relation to performance in track and field: mass spectrometry results from 2127 observations in male and female elite athletes,’ in the case currently pending before the Court of Arbitration for Sport (‘CAS’) between athlete Dutee Chand and the Athletics Federation of India and the IAAF, was published on 3 July 2017 in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.
In July 2015, the CAS issued an interim decision to suspend the IAAF’s Hyperandrogenism Regulations, which screen female athletes on the basis of their natural testosterone levels, for two years, in order to provide the IAAF with an opportunity to submit further evidence on the degree of performance advantage that hyperandrogenic female athletes have over athletes with normal testosterone levels. The research carried out by Dr Stéphane Bermon, a member of the IAAF and IOC working groups on hyperandrogenic female athletes and transgender athletes, and Dr Pierre-Yves Garnier, Director of the IAAF Health and Science Department, found that in certain events female athletes with high testosterone levels benefit from a 1.8% to 4.5% competitive advantage over female athletes with lower testosterone levels.
Carlos Sayao, Associate at Davies Ward Phillips & Vineberg LLP, who successfully represented Dutee Chand in the ruling suspending the operation of the IAAF’s Hyperandrogenism Regulations, commented in response to the research that “Dutee intends to fully respond to any submission the IAAF files with the CAS in an effort to revive the suspended Hyperandrogenism Regulation. The paper that has been published recently by IAAF doctors does not change in any way Dutee’s view that the Regulation is unnecessary and not justifiable. Dutee also does not believe that this paper satisfies the high bar that was set for the IAAF by the CAS. Dutee does not understand why the IAAF believes she should be subjected to medical review, testing or alteration. She simply wishes to run just as she was born.”
Dutee Chand was granted a temporary reprieve from the CAS allowing her to compete in competition pending a final decision on appeal against the Hyperandrogenism Regulations, following her disqualification by the Athletics Federation of India from participating in the Commonwealth Games, after tests revealed that her body produced natural levels of testosterone above the permissible limit set by the Regulations. The CAS gave the IAAF two years to present evidence that high levels of naturally occurring testosterone give women a competitive advantage comparable to that of a male athlete. The CAS accepted that there is evidence that testosterone increases athletic performance, but was not satisfied that the advantage was more significant than other factors such as other genetic or biological variations, and training or nutrition.
Katrina Karkazis, Senior Research Scholar at the Center for Biomedical Ethics at Stanford University, who helped to mount Dutee Chand’s appeal against the Hyperandrogenism Regulations before the CAS, and served as an expert witness in the hearing, believes that the research published is not the evidence that the CAS has asked for. “To justify what the CAS called a discriminatory regulation, the IAAF has to demonstrate that the performance difference between women with higher testosterone than their peers is equivalent to the performance advantage male athletes typically have over female athletes (roughly 10%), not that female athletes with higher testosterone have any performance advantage over their peers,” explains Karkazis. “This is nowhere near 10%. This new study by the IAAF shows the same 1-3% that the IAAF presented at the CAS and that the CAS rejected.”
“The real news here is that the IAAF was not able to show any correlation between testosterone and athleticism in men, which completely undermines its theory that testosterone is the primary driver of athleticism,” adds Karkazis. Funded by the IAAF and the World Anti-Doping Agency, the research describes and characterises serum androgen levels and studies their possible influence on athletic performance in both male and female elite athletes. The research carried out analysed 2,127 mass spectrometry-measured serum androgen concentrations obtained from elite athletes participating in the 2011 and 2013 IAAF World Championships.
“The IAAF’s Hyperandrogenism Regulations force certain female athletes to take courses of drugs or undergo surgery to be allowed to compete. The CAS has, correctly in my opinion, taken the view that such steps are not to be undertaken lightly and will require convincing evidence that the Regulations should be reinstated,” explains Rupert Beloff, Barrister at 4-5 Gray’s Inn Square and Kings Chambers. “No doubt the IAAF will be eager for the issue to be resolved but hyperandrogenism remains a difficult issue for athletics, balancing the rights of individuals to compete with the desirability of a level playing field. The failure to strike the right balance could devalue the sport as a whole and lead to unfairness to individual athletes through no fault of their own.”