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Caster Semenya on the podium at the Commonwealth Games earlier this month. Photograph: Reuters

IAAF accused of ‘blatant racism’ over new testosterone level regulations

WT24 Desk

The IAAF has been accused of “blatant racism” by the ruling party of South Africa, the African National Congress, over its new regulations on testosterone levels, The Guardian reports.

On Thursday the IAAF introduced the regulations aimed at athletes with Differences of Sex Development. The rules limit the testosterone levels of female athletes competing between 400m and a mile.

The rules will have an impact on Caster Semenya, South Africa’s world and Olympic 800m champion, who now has to take medication to lower her testosterone levels to keep competing at that distance. The South African minister of sport Tokozile Xasa described them ‘Caster Semenya Regulations’ as they are designed to disadvantage Caster in her career.”

ANC spokesman Pule Mabe also compared the new IAAF regulations to government policies in apartheid South Africa. “The regulations are a painful reminder of our past where an unjust government specifically legislated laws for certain activists in society to stifle their fight against an unjust system. The IAAF uses the same tactic to exclude those who have defined the past decade as champions and treasures of their home countries,” Mabe said. “We call on government to challenge this grossly unfair, unjust and blatant racist attempt by the IAAF to the court of arbitration for sport.”

Mabe explained “the ANC has always understood sport as a unifier and a tool to bring people and nations together. It is for this reason and many that the ANC cannot ignore the attempt by the IAAF to discriminate and exclude athletes. These new regulations infringe on the human rights of athletes, targeting mainly those in east Europe, Asia and the African continent. The racial undertones of this cannot go unnoticed.”

Xasa also called for “South Africans and all progressive people of the world must unite and support Caster and all affected athletes in this regard.” She added “Caster is not just an athlete to people of South Africa – she represents their hopes and aspirations. She is a pathfinder to the rural poor and downtrodden, she is an affirmation of black excellence. She undermines a stereotype that nothing good will ever come from the rural villages.”

The secretary general of the women’s league of the ANC, Meokgo Matuba, described the new regulations as the culmination of a “concerted effort to please some of sore racists losers who cannot afford to see a black female South African athletes dominating the world.”

The backlash in South Africa comes at a time when a number of leading experts in statistics, sports science, and bioethics are raising serious concerns about the study that underpins the new IAAF regulations. This study was conducted by Drs Stéphane Bermon and Pierre-Yves Garnier at the 2011 and 2013 World Championships. The authors claimed to have found that “in certain events female athletes with high testosterone levels benefit from a 1.8% to 4.5% advantage over female athletes with lower testosterone levels”.

The methodology that produced those figures has been discredited, and the validity of the entire study widely questioned. In a recent blog published by the British Journal of Sports Medicine three academics, Simon Franklin, Jonathan Ospina Betancurt, and Dr Silvia Camporesi write “contrary to what IAAF claims, science is not its side”. The authors believe the Bermon study was “significantly flawed”, some of its conclusions the “result of pure chance” and that the “IAAF have cherry-picked a few events for which a statistically significant correlation was shown in the original Bermon/Garnier study, and applied restrictions on athletes only for those events. This constitutes a seriously wrong application of scientific findings.” Like Xasa, they believe that the new regulations “seem targeted towards Caster Semenya.”

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