“Out of Bounds? A Critique of the New Policies on Hyper­androgenism in Elite Female Athletes”

Katrina Karkazis, Rebecca Jordan-Young, Georgiann Davis and Silva Comporesi write in The American Journal of Bioethics on new IAAF/IOC policies on hyperandrogenism in female athletes:

In May 2011, more than a decade after the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) abandoned sex testing, they devised new policies in response to the IAAF’s treatment of Caster Semenya, the South African runner whose sex was challenged because of her spectacular win and powerful physique that fueled an international frenzy questioning her sex and legitimacy to compete as female. These policies claim that atypically high levels of endogenous testosterone in women (caused by various medical conditions) create an unfair advantage and must be regulated. Against the backdrop of Semenya’s case and the scientific and historical complexity of “gender verification” in elite sports, we question the new policies on three grounds: (1) the underlying scientific assumptions; (2) the policymaking process; and (3) the potential to achieve fairness for female athletes. We find the policies in each of these domains significantly flawed and therefore argue they should be withdrawn.

The authors conclude:

The current scientific evidence, however, does not support the notion that endogenous testosterone levels confer athletic advantage in any straightforward or predictable way. Even if naturally occurring variation in testosterone conferred advantage, is that advantage unfair? It bears noting that athletes never begin on a fair playing field; if they were not exceptional in one regard or another, they would not have made it to a prestigious international athletic stage. Athletic excellence is the product of a complex entanglement of biological factors and material resources that have the potential to influence athletic advantage.