When it comes to timing, the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) couldn’t have got it worse. On a day its president Sebastian Coe was on scheduled visit to the refurbished Kalinga Stadium, the home turf of Indian sprinter Dutee Chand, the IAAF, headquartered in Monaco, posted a research document on its website, which concluded that females athletes with high testosterone levels had a distinct advantage.
The Asian Athletics Championships, which begins at the refurbished Kalinga Stadium on Thursday, is the showcase event of a state trying to rebrand itself and Dutee is its poster-girl. The IAAF seemed to have inadvertently turned party-pooper.
Two years ago, Dutee had successfully challenged the IAAF’s hyperandrogenism guidelines, under which she had been banned, in the Court of Arbitration for Sport. Dutee won a landmark judgement and put Orissa on the world athletics map by winning international medals. The IAAF had been asked to get back to CAS with scientific evidence which justified banning those with hyperandrogenism, like Dutee.
On Tuesday, by the time the research published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine was deciphered around the world, Coe was interacting with the Indian team and posing for photographs. Among the athletes posing was Chand, oblivious at that point in time that the IAAF was ready to go back to court with the intention to get the rules under which she was disallowed to compete reinstated.
The IAAF claims the new research proves that females with high naturally occurring testosterone have a competitive advantage in the range of 1.8 per cent to 4.5 per cent. At a media interaction a short while later, Coe was asked a about the timing of the publishing of the research papers and how it will affect athletes with hyperandrogenism, specifically Dutee.
“I think it’s important to start off from a very basic principle here. So it is our responsibility in female sport to protect, to defend, and to make sure that we at all times promote our sport and we do it where we possibly can to make it a level-playing field. The other thing, the IAAF has worked on some of the data that we were asked to, some of the scientific background we were asked to look out for by the Court of Arbitration. And it was in response to the CAS that we were asked to go away and do more work in this area. Which is important for our sport,” Coe said.
No effect on London plans
The eligibility of athletes won’t be affected for the next month’s World Championships in London, Coe confirmed. But on hearing about the possibility that her career could hit a roadblock again, Dutee was anxious. With the women’s 100 metres final to be held in two days, Dutee switched off her phone, hoping for some peace and quiet.
“This is like 2014 all over again when I was banned and then had to go to court to earn my right to compete. I had forgotten about the entire episode and about the case in CAS. Now it seems that the case has returned to haunt me. This is not easy for me because I am competing in the Asian Athletics Championships and want to qualify for the World Championships also. It is going to be difficult for me to train and compete while knowing that questions over my eligibility may rise again. I will leave it to my lawyers to deal with the case but I am not at ease,” Dutee said.
‘Leveling the Playing Field in Female Sport: New Research Published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine’ is the title of the paper on the IAAF website. Both the researchers have links to the world athletics body with Drs Stéphane Bermon being a member of the IOC and IAAF working groups on hyperandrogenism and transgender athletes and Dr Pierre-Yves Garnier the director of the health and science department of the IAAF.
The findings are based on serum androgen levels of 2127 athletes – both male and female elite athletes – in relation to their performance during the 2011 and 2013 World Championships.
Dr Bermon commented: “Our starting position is to defend, protect and promote fair female competition. If, as the study shows, in certain events female athletes with higher testosterone levels can have a competitive advantage of between 1.8-4.5% over female athletes with lower testosterone levels, imagine the magnitude of the advantage for female athletes with testosterone levels in the normal male range.”
The IAAF is still in the process of collecting evidence and it will take months before CAS decides on the eligibility of females with hyperandrogenism. But for Dutee, the feeling of a sword hanging over her head has returned to haunt her, on the eve of the biggest athletics spectacle in her home state.