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The International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) regulation of testosterone on hyper-androgenic female athletes: an ethical exploration.

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In recent times, hyperandrogenism has become a topical issue and has generated public interest. Studies have been conducted to answer the question of whether hormones, specifically testosterone in female athletes, do really have a competitive edge. The first regulation by the International Association of Athletes Federation (IAAF) and (International Olympic Committee (IOC) on hyperandrogenic females was passed in 2011, prior to the Olympic games in 2012. It was for female athletes who were hyperandrogenic, meaning those who had higher levels of testosterone. The threshold for the 2011 regulation was 10 nanomoles and covered all the Olympics track events. Due to the lack of evidence, the regulation was ruled out by the CAS (Court of Arbitration for Sport). As a result, the IAAF came out with the 2018 eligibility rule for female athletes that focused on females with the differences of sex development. The threshold for the testosterone level was 5 nanomoles, covering the events from 400 meters to 1 mile. Since this regulation was first introduced, there have been so many debates around it as it is against the IAAF charter and human rights. Using human rights theory, the dissertation explores the issues that emanate from the regulation. The regulation violates the rights of the athletes; among them are the right to privacy, right to health, right to bodily integrity, and the right not to be discriminated against. There is also the issue of fair play that the IAAF claim is more important in levelling the playing field for all female athletes. The regulations raise a lot of concerns, especially in women and their bodies. It has been criticized in terms of validity, targeting a certain group of people, and enforcing the white notion of femininity on all athletes. The researcher found out that the regulations do not only discriminate against female athletes, especially women of colour from poor backgrounds. It also enforces the Western white notion of femininity, their idea of what it means to be a woman, and how a woman should look and behave. The regulations require those who are diagnosed with DSD to undergo medical procedures to be eligible to compete on the international level in the women’s category. The medical intervention has been found to have some serious side effects and could result in health issues that violate the right of female athletes to health. The medical requirement clause does not give those athletes the choice to choose what happens to their bodies because at the end of the day giving up their dreams is not the option to some of them so, they are forced to undergo medical intervention that is not even necessary and that violates the right to bodily integrity. The right to privacy and dignity is also violated. The suspension after diagnosis makes people suspicious of the reason why a certain athlete is suspended, and the media eventually issue some reports of the reasons behind suspension.


Masters Degree. University of KwaZulu-Natal, Pietermaritzburg.