New regulations by the International Association of Athletics Federation (IAAF) could see female athletes with higher than average testosterone forced onto medication or into men’s competition.
Seemingly intended to target women who have intersex variations, the ruling would equally affect other women with naturally high testosterone.
Female athletes will be required to have testosterone levels below five nanomoles per litre.
Cis women typically have levels below two nanomoles, and cis men between about seven and 30.
Individual women can have naturally higher levels of testosterone, including due to conditions such as ovarian tumours, as well as intersex variations.
Trans women typically have lower testosterone than cis women due to hormone treatment, but those who may still have higher testosterone would be affected by the new rules.
“As the International Federation for our sport we have a responsibility to ensure a level playing field for athletes,” said IAAF president Sebastian Coe in a statement.
“Like many other sports we choose to have two classifications for our competition—men’s events and women’s events.
“This means we need to be clear about the competition criteria for these two categories.
“Our evidence and data show that testosterone, either naturally produced or artificially inserted into the body, provides significant performance advantages in female athletes.
“The revised rules are not about cheating, no athlete with [an intersex variation] has cheated, they are about levelling the playing field to ensure fair and meaningful competition in the sport of athletics where success is determined by talent, dedication and hard work rather than other contributing factors.”
The regulations would require women with higher than average testosterone to take hormone treatment to lower their levels for six months before being allowed to compete in women’s events.
The new rules will impact South African runner Caster Semenya, the world 800m track champion, who will have to take medication to keep competing.
The South African government has slammed the regulations as “blatantly racist”, The Guardian has reported.
South African minister of sport, Tokozile Xasa, called them “Caster Semenya Regulations as they are designed to disadvantage Caster in her career”.
“The [African National Congress (ANC)] has always understood sport as a unifier and a tool to bring people and nations together,” said Xasa.
“It is for this reason and many that the ANC cannot ignore the attempt by the IAAF to discriminate and exclude athletes.
“These new regulations infringe on the human rights of athletes, targeting mainly those in east Europe, Asia and the African continent. The racial undertones of this cannot go unnoticed.”
The secretary general of the women’s league of the ANC, Meokgo Matuba, called the regulations part of a “concerted effort to please some of the sore racist losers who cannot afford to see a black female South African athlete dominating the world”.
The IAAF’s new regulations are based on a study that suggested women with high testosterone may have up to a 4.5 per cent advantage.
However, the study has been criticised by experts as “significantly flawed”, and some of its conclusions as “pure chance”.
The regulations are set to come into effect in November.