Forcing female athletes to regulate testosterone could breach international human rights rules, the UN Human Rights Council said on Thursday in a rare foray into sports amid an escalating row over intersex and transgender competitors.
The move came as the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) delayed judgement until next month on athlete Caster Semenya’s appeal hearing against the International Association of Athletics Federations’ (IAAF) rules on testosterone suppression.
Double 800m Olympic champion Semenya is seeking to overturn a set of IAAF regulations that aim to lower the testosterone levels of intersex athletes.
Semenya was born with the intersex condition hyproandrogenism, which leads to higher amounts of testosterone. Some people say this gives her a competitive advantage.
The council passed a South African-led resolution on eliminating discrimination against women and girls in sport that criticized the IAAF.
It called on all countries to ensure sports organizations “refrain from developing and enforcing policies and practices that force, coerce or otherwise pressure women and girl athletes into undergoing unnecessary, humiliating and harmful medical procedures.”
There might have been a “lack of legitimate and justifiable evidence” for the IAAF regulations to the extent they might not be “reasonable and objective,” the statement said.
The council requested a report on the intersection of race and gender discrimination in sports for June next year.
The IAAF last year ruled that hypoandrogenic athletes must suppress testosterone levels for at least six months before being allowed to compete.
This came after the CAS suspended the IAAF’s hypoandrogenism rules in 2015, initially for an interim two years, for the IAAF to conduct more scientific research into the subject.
Hypoandrogenism is characterized by higher-than-usual levels of testosterone, a hormone that increases muscle mass, strength and hemoglobin, which affects endurance.
Opinion is divided on whether this can give athletes a competitive edge.
“There is no published, transparent and reproducible evidence of a clear ... advantage by women athletes born with variations of sex characteristics,” Intersex Human Rights Australia coexecutive director Morgan Carpenter said on Friday. “Exclusion from women’s competitive sport is discriminatory under such circumstances.”
An IAAF spokesman said that the body shares common ground with the council, as both believe it is important to preserve fair competition “so women are free to compete in national and international sport.”
“To do this it is necessary to ensure the female category in sport is a protected category, which requires rules and regulations to protect it, otherwise we risk losing the next generation of female athletes, since they will see no path to success in female sport,” the spokesman said.
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