The International Olympic Committee has announced new rules on hyperandrogenism following the recommendation of its Medical Commission. The new rules will come into effect at the 2012 London Olympics.
The new framework is as follows:
- A female recognised in law should be eligible to compete in female competitions provided that she has androgen levels below the male range (as shown by the serum concentration of testosterone) or, if within the male range, she has an androgen resistance such that she derives no competitive advantage from such levels.
- An evaluation with respect to eligibility should be made on an anonymous basis by a panel of independent international experts in the field of hyperandrogenism that would in each case issue a recommendation on eligibility for the sport concerned. In each case, the sport would decide on an athlete’s eligibility taking into consideration the panel’s recommendation.
- Should an athlete be considered ineligible to compete, she would be notified of the reasons why, and informed of the conditions she would be required to meet should she wish to become eligible again.
- If an athlete fails or refuses to comply with any aspect of the eligibility determination process, while that is her right as an individual, she will not be eligible to participate as a competitor in the chosen sport.
- The investigation of a particular case should be conducted under strict confidentiality.
Although rare, some women develop male-like body characteristics due to an overproduction of male sex hormones, so-called “androgens.” The androgenic effects on the human body explain why men perform better than women in most sports and are, in fact, the very reason for the distinction between male and female competition in most sports. Consequently, women with hyperandrogenism generally perform better in sport than other women.
In order to address the issue of female hyperandrogenism, the IOC Medical Commission and the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) jointly organised a scientific symposium in Miami in January 2010, at which the scientific aspects of hyperandrogenism in relation to female sports competition were explored. Two of the most important conclusions were that (i) in order to protect the health of the athlete, sports authorities should have the responsibility to make sure that any case of female hyperandrogenism that arises under their jurisdiction receives adequate medical follow-up, and (ii) rules need to be put in place to regulate the participation of athletes with hyperandrogenism in competitions for women.
The rule aspects were discussed at a second conference organised by the IOC Medical Commission in October 2010, at which representatives of the relevant parties participated: namely scientists, sports administrators, sports lawyers (including from the IOC Legal Affairs Department), juridical experts in human rights, experts in medical and sports ethics, female athletes and a representative appointed by the intersex community (Organisation Intersex International).
The conference concluded that rules are needed and emphasised that these rules should respect the essence of the male/ female classification and also guarantee the fairness and integrity of female competitions for all female athletes.
The debate over hyperandrogenism was ignited in 2009 when the mishandling of the case of Caster Semenya created insensitive and misleading headlines about a “gender test” which prompted friends and family to protest that there was no doubt about her being a woman. Semenya was later cleared to compete by the International Association of Athletics Federations but the results of the hormone tests she took have remained confidential.
Furthermore, the rules of the acceptable level of testosterone in an athlete participating in female competitions needed to be clarified by the relevant authorities. The IOC has now recommended that “International Sports Federations adopt similar rules for their own competitions, duly adapted to meet the specificities of the sport concerned”.