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Hyperandrogenism - Is the IAAF leveling the playing field or the players?

By Jane, Apr 27 2018 11:05AM

What do you see? Unfair or just fast?
What do you see? Unfair or just fast?

The recent ruling on hyperandrogenism from the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) which Lord Coe heads is perhaps racist, it is perhaps stupid, but more importantly it appears to be saying that sport (and in particular middle distance running) is no longer about being the best male or female, instead we have to level out the natural advantages that some humans have over others, particularly if we feel the particular trait to be more male or female than we are comfortable with.

The ruling says that women with high testosterone levels should take drugs to reduce them or be forced to compete with men.

All women are not the same; nor are all men. Some women are better suited to being high jumpers or better at tennis; some men have a natural disposition to be able to run fast, some are better at playing computer games.

It has been shown that women who have more testosterone are at a slight advantage in some sports. This should not be a surprise to anyone. Just as those with long legs are at an advantage when it comes to the high jump and netball, and those who are 5’ 6” and of a slight build appear to be at an advantage as marathon runners, but a distinct disadvantage on the basketball court.

If we start to categorise people in terms of their testosterone levels (or any other trait) then gender will become irrelevant. Should men with low testosterone levels be allowed to take supplements (currently this is illegal), or should they be allowed to compete against women? How level would that playing field look?

The ruling appears at first sight to be aimed at one athlete, Caster Semenya. Research quoted by the IAAF suggests that throwing events and the pole vault might be affected more than running, so why limit the ruling to track events from 400m to 1500m? If the ruling goes ahead in this sport surely before long it will need to apply to football, rugby….. in fact any sport where being stronger or faster is an advantage.

All top level women runners athletes will now be forced to have their testosterone levels monitored. This "male shaming" could drive many women out of sport just as we are trying to achieve gender equality. And what is a “high level” anyway? Where should we draw the line? Should women with particularly low testosterone be allowed to take some for fairer competition?

Or is it that Coe and the IAAF have their own notions of what being female means? This in itself is most worrying, this ruling has been cited as racist but I don’t see it that way at all, I see it as women being told how they should be in order to to be a proper woman; they want their track and field stars to be feminine. It’s old-school sexism, bullying and vilification and it is not nice.

"Sport For All” meant that everyone should be encouraged to run out onto the field and play sport. In trying to create a level playing field the IAAF are actually levelling the players instead.

Surely the biggest result of this ruling is that less people will want to come out to play!

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I'm Jane Roweth, owner of Aspire Fitness Solutions (I'm the one wearing red) and in this blog I'll be leaving day-to-day business behind and commenting on some of the wider issues in the health and fitness industry.


I've been around this industry for 20 years now and I have a lot of experience and opinions to share.


I'll also be sharing some of the stories that have been making Aspire such an inspiring place to work for the last 9 years.