Human Rights Watch: Testosterone Testing for Women Athletes Is 'Discrimination'


A rule from the International Association of Athletics Federation (IAAF) that says women athletes with higher-than-average testosterone levels must compete in mens categories is coming under intense and increasing scrutiny—before it’s even official.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) has joined the list of organizations criticizing the IAAF’s rule, as the Guardian reports. The rule states women athletes running races between 400 meters and one mile with testosterone levels above 5 nanomoles per liter must lower said hormone level in order to compete with women. In a new open letter, HRW says this amounts to gender discrimination.

“Women with intersex variations have the same rights to dignity and bodily integrity as all women,” the letter states. “But the new IAAF regulations coerce some women to undergo unnecessary medical intervention to alter their hormone levels simply because their naturally occurring testosterone is atypical.”

The letter comes as the battle over hormone testing and gender classifications in sports is becoming increasingly public. In June, South African runner and two-time Olympic gold medalist Caster Semenya said she would challenge the IAAF’s rule in the Court of Arbitration for Sports (or the “Supreme Court of international sports,” according to the New York Times).

“I don’t like talking about this new rule,” Semenya said. “I just want to run naturally, the way I was born. It is not fair that I am told I must change. It is not fair that people question who I am.”

Athletes rushed to voice their support of Semenya; over 60, including Abby Womach and Billie Jean King, signed a letter calling for the IAAF to ditch the new rule.

The IAAF’s rationale for setting a testosterone limit for women is that higher levels of the hormone give those women a measurable advantage over other women. In June, Semenya, who has faced suspicions about her gender since 2009, summed it up pretty clearly: “I am a woman and I am fast.”

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