Should Female Athletes Have A Maximum Allowed Level Of Testosterone?

Should Female Athletes Have A Maximum Allowed Level Of Testosterone?

Is It Fair If They Naturally Have More Testosterone?

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With the rise in popularity of women’s sporting events, is it fair if one particular athlete has more testosterone than the other’s? I am not talking about steroid cheating, just naturally occurring testosterone.

Surely a woman with much higher levels are going to perform much like a male athlete and produce faster times, bigger lifts with higher jumps. This can start to blur the lines between males and female events. At what point do we call it unfair?

Since 1983 no woman athlete has beaten Jarmila Kratochvilova’s time of 1:53.28 in the women’s 800m. Yet, controversially this could well be beaten by the infamous Caster Semenya of South Africa, so why after 33 years could this record be broken?

Well, Semenya has extremely high natural levels of testosterone. So high that some people think she should not be allowed to compete.

When Semenya was 18 she won her first Gold medal at the world championships in 2009, she obliterated the other competitors by over 2 seconds. Yet, even before the race and her win it was confirmed by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) that Semenya was undergoing a humiliating sex-determination test.

The organisation released a statement explaining that the test was ordered not necessarily due to her blistering times but more because of the rapid improvements.

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The results of these tests were never made public, yet Semenya was not allowed to compete until mid 2010. The theories out there were that she was ordered to take testosterone supressive drugs.

This was the catalyst for many changes at the IAAF, they introduced a cap on the amount of testosterone that athletes are allowed to posses in order to compete in female events to which the Olympics adopted in 2012. The IAAF also started to investigate its own rules regarding intersex athletes as the lines are being constantly blurred. I mean, which events would past Olympian Bruce/Caitlin Jenner compete in these days for his/her comeback..?!

Either way, rightly or wrongly and whether it was due to the conspiracy behind the drugs or whether psychologically Semenya wasn’t up to it, she posted a mediocre time at London 2012 and won a Silver.

Yet, recently an Indian athlete challenged the IAAF’s ruling at the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) and took them to the cleaners.

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The verdict concluded that the rulings were discriminatory seeing as they only applied to women and it could not be proven that having a higher level of naturally occurring testosterone was as effective as when synthetic testosterone is administered.

This ruling meant that Semenya was able to return to athletics without taking the suppresive drugs. The effect was almost immediate as she began to obliterate the competition again in South Africa. In one single afternoon at the South African national championships Semenya won the 400m, 800m and 1500m running in a personal best of 1:55.33. Notably, this was the fastest time by anyone since 2008…

Now, the ideology of restricting the amount of natural hormonal levels in the body is almost providing an edge for those less fortunate. Surely if the levels are natural, that should be celebrated?

What next? Shortening Usain Bolt’s legs to shorten his gait or making Michael Phelps wear an altitude mask to restrict airflow to his extreme lung capacity?

Human differences, in my opinion, are there to be celebrated. So, Semenya is great at running. Good.

Let’s not get in to the mindset that ‘no-one is a loser and we are all winner’s’ because we’ll never make any athletic progress.

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Ben BA(Hons), PGCert

Ben established this site to be a free resource in 2015. Since then it has gained over half a million visits. He has always been interested in sport and he started playing rugby at the age of 6 represented his town, county and school. Ben also enjoys cycling, has started skiing and is in the Army Reserve representing his Regiment as part of the 150 Regimental Shooting Team. He holds a bachelor's and postgraduate degree in sport exercise & nutrition.

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