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UN Experts Slam Athletics Gender Regulations

Athletics Federation Rules Discriminate Against Women with Intersex Variations

Caster Semenya of South Africa, Charlene Lipsey of the United States and Lynsey Sharp of Great Britain compete in the Women's 800 metres semi finals during day eight of the 16th IAAF World Athletics Championships London 2017 at the London Stadium on August 11, 2017 in London, United Kingdom.  © 2017 Getty Images/ Andy Lyons

Three United Nations human rights experts have written a joint letter to the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) raising concerns about new regulations that discriminate against women with intersex variations and bar certain athletes from competition.

The letter is a boost for Caster Semenya, the 27-year-old South African Olympic sprinting champion who is challenging the regulations in court, calling them “discriminatory, irrational, [and] unjustifiable.”

The regulations, published in April, target women athletes with some intersex variations – sometimes called “differences of sex development” or “DSD” – that cause higher than typical natural testosterone levels. The regulations deny these women the right to participate in the female category for running events between 400 meters and a mile unless they submit to invasive testing and medically unnecessary “treatment.” There is no clear scientific consensus that women with higher than typical natural testosterone have a performance advantage in athletics.

“The regulations reinforce negative stereotypes and stigma that women in the targeted category are not women – and that they either need to be “fixed” through medically unnecessary treatment with negative health impacts,” the experts on health, torture, and women’s rights wrote. “Women who do not conform to culturally constructed notions of womanhood are particularly at risk of discrimination, violence, and criminalization. By singling out a certain group of athletes and denying them membership in the ‘female’ category, the IAAF puts these women at risk of repercussions far beyond the inability to compete.”

In 2011, the IAAF issued very similar regulations. The Indian runner Dutee Chand challenged the regulations at the Court of Arbitration in Sport (CAS), leading to a 2014 judgment that the 2011 regulations did “discriminate against women and discriminate based on a natural physical trait.” The court rightly noted that, “Such discrimination is, unless justified, contrary to the Olympic Charter, the IAAF Constitution and the laws of Monaco” and stated that “if the [testosterone] Regulations cannot be justified, specifically as a reasonable and necessary response to a legitimate need, then they should be declared invalid.”

These regulations are stigmatizing, stereotyping, and discriminatory and have no place in sport or society.

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