Female Athletes Face Challenges as the IAAF Continues to Institute Discriminatory Regulations

The International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) just released new regulations that prohibit women with naturally elevated testosterone levels from competing professionally. Sexism and racism are alive and thriving in a modern patriarchy that continues to favor white males, especially in athletics.

Gender testing has perpetually oppressed women in sports. Dutee Chand, an Indian sprinter, sparked conversation when she was forbidden from competing in 2014 under IAAF regulations. Chand was able to successfully fight the regulation. Thus, in response, the IAAF instituted revised regulations this year which limit the events that the regulations affect. The constraints apply specifically to female athletes competing in mid-distance track events. Namely, women with higher levels of testosterone or “differences of sexual development,” as described by the IAAF, may not compete in the 400m, 400m hurdles, 800m, 1500m, and mile events.

In order to overcome these regulations, women would have to endure unnecessary medical intervention, compete in male classified events or a new intersex category, refrain from competing at the international level, or choose a new event that does not fall under the regulations. Telling female-identifying athletes with slightly different biological make-ups to compete differently or jump through enormous, dangerous loopholes just to continue along their determined path is not only unethical and discriminatory but also just preposterous. These new regulations put both physical and immense psychic tolls on female athletes.

Caster Semenya, a runner from South Africa, is one of the clear targets of the revised regulations. The regulations specifically cite middle-distance events, those in which historically women from the Global South have overwhelmingly succeeded. The African National Congress labels the new policies as racist and largely discriminatory of women of color. Semenya appealed the measures by the IAAF in the Court of Arbitration for Sport in Switzerland, which brought international attention to her case. Under the policy, Semenya would have to undergo hormone treatment in order to compete in next year’s Olympics.

Sex testing, a necessary step in carrying out these new policies, is a deliberate threat of women’s privacy, safety, and livelihood. Additionally, it is an invasion over women’s control of their bodies, an issue that plagues women today in varying political debates ranging from abortion and contraception to workplace sexual harassment to general opportunity.  

The IAAF stated that the regulations are "in no way intended as any kind of judgement on or questioning of the sex or the gender identity of any athlete... it is necessary to require DSD athletes to reduce their testosterone down to female levels before they compete at international level." They claim that they instituted the policies to “to preserve fair competition in the female category.” However, the hammer throw and the pole vault proved to be the events most significantly influenced by testosterone levels. Those events are not included in the regulations. The IAAF’s motives are therefore incredibly apparent. Jessica Rosendorf, a student-athlete at Tufts, reflects on the new regulations.

“These women shouldn’t have to put their health or their careers at risk because they were born with a natural difference that the IAAF doesn’t even have solid evidence to prove provides a competitive advantage,” she said.