So after all the public uproar regarding the IAAF and their new regulations I thought I would attempt to put some things in context regarding their new ruling, as a lot of the arguments and stances taken have been very emotionally driven with little facts. I would like to start off saying I am by no means an expert in athletics or endocrinology this is just an informed opinion.
So last week we saw the IAAF declared that female/intersex athletes competing in the 400m, 800m, 1500m, including the hurdle events in that range need to have a testosterone level of <5nmol/L. Their previous ruling was <10nmol/L, which was challenged (by another athlete) at the Court of arbitration for sport (CAS) in 2016. CAS then ‘rejected’ the ruling of the IAAF and asked them to provide scientific evidence.
What is a normal testosterone level?
The ‘normal’ range for females is usually <3 nmol/L.
Does testosterone make that much of a difference?
Yes. No debate.
“Why not all events? They just chose the events Caster is involved in on purpose!”
No. They were asked to provide science, which they did (we will get to the science in a bit), Their research showed advantages in the 400m, 800m, hammer throw, and pole vault. No other events. It does not really explain why the hammer throw and pole vault are excluded and the 1500m included (potentially logistical reasons and other reasons given for the exclusion of the HT and PV which I’m not too convinced on, well at least the ones I have read).
“What’s this science they did then?”
The main paper cited is Bermon & Garnier 1. They tested male and female athletes’ testosterone levels in 2011 and 2013 and assessed their performances during those champs to see the magnitude of effect of testosterone in all events. As mentioned they found a significant effect in certain events.
Now there’s a few issues here: the statistics of this study are very questionable as mentioned by BJSM 2 and Sönksen et al. 3 among other questionable study design methods. These statistics are a huge basis for this ruling so here it will have some issues.
The authors themselves admit that this paper alone cannot prove causality – not even close unfortunately (correlation does not always equal causation).
These facts with a number of other issues makes this science quite ‘weak’ but we need to remember there is no such thing as perfect science however with this topic it is near impossible to get science to prove what is asked. With this is mind I believe the ruling will be challenged and CAS will ‘reject’ the ruling once again. As this in not just a ruling that will affect the type of stretching advocated for pre exercise but will have much larger effects around the world especially for the athletes that this applies to so there needs to be substantial evidence to bring out these ‘changes’. This is just the research I have seen/have access to. There may be more.
“Its racist, just look at Kratochvilová”
This is a prime example of the Dunning-Kruger effect and it is just not an argument I am willing to entertain. This would need to be a completely different post based on the history of anti-doping and athletes
We need to be very careful saying they are completely racist and sexist (as I have seen a ton of these posts). For a whole organization to wonder how to stop one athlete with no evidence is a big assumption and once again big assumptions require substantial evidence.
I quite like how Ross Tucker (@Scienceofsport on twitter) has put it (“a part of me hopes the IAAF says) “Science can’t draw the neat line you demand, & you tell us not to try to regulate ‘natural genetic advantage’, so there’s going to be one race from now on. Good luck, humans.””
As you can see this is a much more complex topic than a simple racial crusade. I highly recommend you watch Ross Tuckers’ (@Scienceofsport) #fourminutemull on this for some more insight:
As stated earlier this is just my opinion. That’s all it is, an opinion. I have tried to be as objective as possible in this but I don’t think this ruling will stand and a lot more science is needed.
- Bermon S., Garnier P. (2017) Serum androgen levels and their relation to performance in track and field: mass spectrometry results from 2127 observations in male and female elite athletes. Br J Sports Med.
- Franklin S., Betancurt J., and Camporesi S. (2018) What statistical analysis of observational performance data can tell us and what it cannot: the case of Dutee Chand vs IAAF vs AFI. Retrieved from: www.blogs.bmj.com
- Sönksen et al. (2018 Hyperandrogenism controversy in elite women’s sport: an examination and critique of recent evidence. Br J Sports Med.