Controversial rules regarding intersex athletes, which prevented South Africa’s Caster Semenya from defending her title in the 800m run at the Tokyo Olympics, have come under renewed scrutiny as scientists corrected a study that indicated a causal relationship between high testosterone levels and improved athletic performance among elite female athletes.
The study, published in 2017, was one of the pieces of evidence used to limit athletes with a rare genetic condition that causes elevated testosterone levels to enter certain women’s events.
Semenya’s lawyers and a prominent U.S. critic of the restrictions on Wednesday called for the regulation to be suspended, following a correction printed by the British Journal of Sports Medicine of the 2017 article written by two scientists affiliated with the British Journal of Sports Medicine. world athletics. .
The scientists acknowledged that their study indicating a crucial relationship between high testosterone levels and improved athletic performance in elite female athletes was “exploratory” and “could be misleading by implying a causal inference.”
The study was used to implement regulations in 2018 that restrict intersex athletes from participating in women’s 400-meter to mile running events unless they lower their naturally high testosterone levels.
The regulations apply to athletes with a sexual development disorder known as 46, XY DSD. These athletes have an X and Y chromosome in each cell, the typical male pattern; genitals that are not typically male or female; and testosterone levels in the male range, which doctors say suggests the presence of testicular tissue or internal testicles.
World Athletics, which regulates athletics, has acknowledged that the rules are discriminatory but argues that they are fair and necessary to ensure that female athletes compete on a level playing field in terms of strength, muscle mass and oxygen-carrying capacity.
But challenges to the DSD rules implemented by World Athletics certainly seem to be starting again after the correction in the British Journal of Sports Medicine. On Wednesday, Gregory Nott, one of Semenya’s lawyers, told the British newspaper The Telegraph that the athlete’s legal team hoped World Athletics would now “support setting the rules aside”.
Semenya has lost the appeals to continue running the 800 meters in international competitions before the Court of Arbitration for Sport, a kind of Supreme Court for international sports; and the Federal Supreme Court of Switzerland. Her case is now before the European Court of Human Rights, although legal experts have said a ruling in favor of Semenya would not mean World Athletics should allow her to host her signature event.
She won the 800 meters at the 2012 Olympics in London and the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro. Excluded from the 800 in Tokyo by the new rules, she attempted to run the 5,000 meters at the Tokyo Olympics but failed to achieve a qualifying time in the event.
“It is more than surprising that World Athletics did not reveal this evidence before the recent Tokyo Olympics and allowed Caster to defend her 800m title,” Nott, Semenya’s lawyer, told The Telegraph.
Roger Pielke Jr., a University of Colorado professor who has for several years criticized the science used by World Athletics to limit Semenya and other intersex athletes, said in a telephone interview Wednesday that the DSD regulations should be enforced. suspended pending an independent review.
“This is a test for World Athletics to show that they really listen to evidence and science, rather than trying to bend science to a predetermined decision,” Pielke said.
Previously, he wrote on his Substack that the correction was an “admission of an error by World Athletics in the only empirical analysis to support eligibility rules for female athletes.”
“The implications are huge,” he added.
World Athletics tried to downplay the importance of the correction on Wednesday. It said criticisms of the 2017 study were addressed in a 2018 article in the British Journal of Sports Medicine. The correction was made, the World Athletics scientists wrote, to clear up stubborn questions from independent observers about a causal link between high testosterone levels and women’s athletic performance.
The 2017 research paper “had no impact” on a decade of research conducted by World Athletics before the eligibility rules for female athletes were introduced, the governing body said in a statement.
Since then, the statement continued, “several peer-reviewed publications have supported a casual relationship between elevated serum testosterone levels and improved anthropometric/physiological characteristics and athletic performance in young women.”
Finally, Stéphane Bermon, the director of the health and scientific division of World Athletics, and Pierre-Yves Garnier, his predecessor, wrote in the correction that an independent, randomly controlled study was needed to provide “confirming scientific evidence for the causal relationships” between increased testosterone levels and performance of elite female athletes.
In their correction, the scientists acknowledged that the 2017 study’s claim that intersex athletes “have a significant competitive advantage” over female athletes with lower testosterone levels in certain events should be changed to say that, based on a lower level of evidence Higher testosterone levels “were associated with higher athletic performance.”
Their findings, Bermon and Garnier wrote, should be viewed as “exploratory, nothing else, that is, not confirming or evidence of a causal relationship.”