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Discrimination in athletics

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Human Rights Watch has recently suggested in an article titled ‘Revoke Discriminatory Athletics Gender Regulations’, that The International Association of Athletics Federations (IAFF) employs discriminatory practices against female athletes.

It has been reported that female athletes with naturally high levels of testosterone who race between 400 metres and one mile are required to reduce that amount to within the usual female range for the hormone or alternatively to race against men or ‘intersex’ athletes.

It is understood that the IAFF introduced a testosterone limit in 2011 for female athletes, however the rule was suspended by the Court of Arbitration for Sport in 2015 following an appeal by an Indian athlete.

After being afforded two years to establish scientific justification for the rule, in 2017 the IAFF produced a study which claimed that female athletes who have male levels of testosterone have a considerable advantage over women with lower levels of the hormone.

The IAFF identified that the advantage is particularly prominent in middle distance events. However, since the reviewed rules were announced in April this year, the IAFF has been compelled to justify the rules and have been accused of ‘bad science’ and bias from critics.

800m Olympic champion Caster Semenya has reportedly revealed her intention to contest the rule and she has been supported by the Women’s Sport Foundation, who suggested in a response to the new rules that IAAF is ‘exacerbating discrimination against women in sport who are perceived as not prescribing to normative ideas about femininity’.

Also in agreement with this view is the Human Rights Watch who have stated the IAAF eligibility regulations for the female classification discriminate against women on the basis of their sex and their characteristics. The Human Rights Watch have also stated ‘Regulations that call for scrutiny of women’s naturally occurring hormone levels are at root a form of judgment and a questioning of women’s sex and gender identity’.

In response to criticisms, the IAFF in an article titled ‘IAAF introduces new eligibility regulations for female classification' has defended the rules along with the science which supports them stating that it ‘has not and will never try to prevent women from participating in athletics’.

Sex discrimination is legislated under the Equality Act 2010 which outlines that a person should not be treated unfavourably because of their sex. If you feel that you have been the victim of sex discrimination and you would like to speak to a member of our specialist team, call us on 01616 966 229 or complete an online enquiry form without delay.

By Laura Brown, employment and discrimination advisor