Saturday, 27 April 2019

If I was a DSD athlete...

As we wait for the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) to make a decision in the case of Caster Semenya vs the IAAF (International Association of Athletic Federations), there is chatter in the press.

Paula Radcliff got slammed for saying that she doesn't agree that hyperandrogenic (HA) and those athletes with Differences of Sexual Development (DSD) should compete in the female category.

Why HA/DSD issues didn't come up decades prior to Semenya's 2009 medal-winning participation puzzles me. Dozens of athletes from years gone by can be pointed-out as being HA/DSD, even without hormone testing.

While I think this issue has not been dealt with correctly, like Radcliff, I do not think that hyperandrogenic / DSD athletes should be competing in the women's category. Not at all. Not even with lowered testosterone (T) levels.

 Let's say I'm an athlete and since puberty I've been taking T. This hormone has allowed me to develop physically bigger and stronger than I ever would have without it. T has given me big strong muscles and I'm at the top of my game - fast and strong.

CAS's concession to T lowering means that if I keep doping as I have been, I can't compete in women's events; but if I only take half of what I was taking, I can compete in women's events. Even if I stopped doping completely, I've had the advantage of developing my body for 15 years (based on Semenya's age) with a hormone that I wouldn't have had naturally, which has given me an advantage over other female athletes even without the ongoing boost from having a higher-than-physiologically-normal-female T level. That is cool for me, but bad for them.

Sport selects for DSD athletes, just as basketball selects for height, because they are faster and stronger, which is why there are so many DSD athletes in women's sport - far exceeding population occurrence - and not just in the track and field disciplines.

This Let's Run article by Amby Burfoot (22 April 2019) is well presented and it a must-read that clarifies what is going on.

It brings me back to a Q&A piece from 2016 by Ross Tucker with Joanna Harper, a hyperandrogenic ex-athlete herself. It is long, but informative and educational read.

Whether Caster, the poster child of hyperandrogenic issues, and other DSD athletes should compete against non-DSD women should not be an emotional issue. This is something that can be decided by science.

Just because I feel that DSD athletes have been run through the mill and that this issue has not been dealt with correctly, does not mean that I can ignore science and evidence to say, "Ag shame, just let her run because she trains so hard, she wins medals for South Africa and she has been treated so unfairly". No. This is something that has a detrimental effect on women's sport.

According to the Lets Run article, "The occurrence of all DSDs lumped together is between 1 in 15,000 (0.0067%) and 1 in 20,000 (0.005%)". But when you look at the start line for the 800m Olympics / World Champs, there is very likely a 35-75% participation of DSD athletes.

Testosterone is the hormone that is key to this issue of differences of sexual development.

From the Lets Run article:

There’s a large, definitive medical literature on normal testosterone levels. Women with XX chromosomes generally live in a range from 0.00 to 1.7 nmol/L, while men with XY chromosomes typically fall between 7.7 to 29.4 nmol/L. Don’t worry what an nmol is; just note that there is no testosterone overlap between typical women and men. In fact, the high end of the female range (1.7) sits 75 percent lower than the low end (7.7) of the male range. That’s a big gap.
At the 2011 and 2013 World Championships, the IAAF actually measured the testosterone levels of 1,332 women and 795 men. The women averaged 0.67 nmol/L and the men 15.6 nmol/L. Again, the proposed IAAF cutoff of 5.0 looks generous alongside 0.67. 
Over the years, hundreds of athletes have been banned from competition for taking performance-enhancing drugs - and many for anabolic steroids, of which testosterone is one. Steroid use is banned by most sporting bodies. Doping is a nasty business that has brought down many stellar athletes; they certainly felt the risk was worth it to be better than they already were. Considering athletics, names of female athletes that stood out for me were Marion Jones (convicted) and Florence Griffith Joyner (speculation, never proved).

If the CAS testosterone lowering regulation is passed, it means that DSD athletes with high T levels must take meds to lower their T levels. That said, can women with a natural testosterone level <1 5="" a="" get="" if="" level="" not="" now="" of="" p="" take="" testosterone="" them="" to="" why="">
All of this is about protecting women's sport. Women do not compete against men; they would lose. Women will lose against a field of DSD athletes too.

Semenya is the poster child for HA/DSD controversy. That's just how it is. How she has managed to put up with the controversy for so long... Tough! But then Pistorius went through this too in his bid to be considered for able-bodied competition, which should never have happened! I can't begin to understand why they are do driven to be in a category that they are not.

If I was her...

I would withdraw from competition. I would use my fame for awareness around hyperandrogenism and Differences of Sexual Development, including testing, diagnosis, types and health repercussions. The secrecy behind this and her has not helped the situation either. I would coach athletes and I would also establish a global league for DSD and transgender teens and adults. This would prove an interesting project!

But that's me.

Because of emotions and sensitivities, we're tip-toeing around a fraction of a percentage of athletes compared to 99.9% of women athletes without DSD. And this is how the CAS ruling should lean. But, we'll only know when it is announced.

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