n Gender and Behaviour - Confronting stereotypes as an entry point to realigning IAAF regulations with human rights and developments in Science - research

Volume 17 Number 4
  • ISSN : 1596-9231


In 2018, the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) rolled out the “Eligibility Regulations for Female Classifications- Athletes with Differences in Sex Development” (IAAF Eligibility Regulations for Female Classification 2018). In terms of these Regulations, for females to be eligible to compete internationally in the races of 400 meters, 800 meters and 1500 meters, their testosterone levels have to be under 5 nanomoles per liter. Caster Semenya, a South African female athlete who felt targeted by these Regulations challenged them before the Court of Arbitration for Sports (CAS) which arrived at its decision on 1 May 2019. In this decision, the CAS ruled that while these Regulations are discriminatory, such discrimination finds justification in the need to ensure a leveled playing ground for all female competitors, including those with lower testosterone levels. The CAS decision is currently the subject of an appeal before the Federal Supreme Court of Switzerland. Nonetheless, it raises a number of critical issues. Presently, there is a growing consensus that these regulations, if implemented, could have dire consequences for the fundamental rights of some female athletes. There’s also a burgeoning body of research showing that the said Regulations are scientifically flawed. Commentators have long criticised the IAAF for its failure to catch up with human rights and science. Despite this, the IAAF remains aloof to the need to align its practice with science and human rights. In this article, it is argued that a major barrier to reforms to IAAF practice is stereotypes. The history and current practice on female eligibility in sports demonstrates that the rules and practice of the IAAF on eligibility have been and continue to be anchored in archaic stereotype on what a female ought to look like. These make it an uphill task for the IAAF to objectively apply human rights and science to their practice. It is concluded that the starting point to making reforms to IAAF practice is unraveling age-old stereotypes on femaleness which lack support in both science and human rights.

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