BEHIND CLOSED DOORS: This is what Semenya’s experts would argue
Their published research on testosterone offers an insight into what they probably brought to the table
Olympian Caster Semenya’s hearing before the International Association of Athletics Federation (IAAF) this week has been closed to the media, but two of her expert witnesses have just published an academic paper criticising its policy on testosterone.
The paper gives an insight into what was probably argued on behalf of Semenya.
The two witnesses argue in an academic journal that the IAAF has failed to prove that athletes with high testosterone have an unfair advantage over other female athletes. This is because the study they used as their evidence is full of errors.
Semenya is challenging the IAAF rule that if she wishes to compete in elite athletics she must lower her testosterone levels to slightly above that of female athletes.
The proceedings at the Court of Arbitration for Sport in Lausanne are confidential, Semenya’s two sets of lawyers said this week.
However, the lawyers got court permission to reveal who her experts would be, after the IAAF revealed its own witnesses on Monday morning.
Pielke is a professor and the director of the Sports Governance Center at the University of Colorado Boulder, while SA sports scientist Ross Tucker – who ironically has been an outspoken advocate in international media and on his website for why Semenya should not be permitted to run – is also a witness in her defence.
In their latest article – published this month and titled “Scientific integrity and the IAAF testosterone regulation” – Tucker, Pielke and a third author, Erik Boye, criticise the science and lack of transparency behind the IAAF policy.
According to the press release accompanying the article, “the research will be at issue this month when one of the experts, Roger A Pielke jnr, is expected to appear as an expert witness at the Court of Arbitration for Sport, where Semenya and Athletics SA have brought a case against the IAAF calling its testosterone rules ‘discriminatory, irrational, and unjustifiable’.”
Times Select previously reported on the errors in the report.
Tucker and Pielke argue that the IAAF should never have used its own scientists to conduct research for its own policy.
“The IAAF set itself up for problems by conducting research on performance effects associated with testosterone using in-house research. We would not find it appropriate for cigarette companies to provide the scientific basis for the regulation of smoking, or oil companies to provide the scientific basis for regulation of fossil fuels.“
They say this is not the first time the IAAF has been hauled before the Court of Arbitration for Sport over its testosterone rules.
Dutee Chand, the 100m Indian sprinter, took on the IAAF on in 2015 to oppose the rule she and other athletes like Semenya had to lower their testosterone levels.
The lawyers Chand had used argued on behalf of Semenya this week.
Tucker and Pielke said Chand won her case because the IAAF could not prove she had an advantage equal or close to that of a man owing to her higher testosterone levels.
The court said the IAAF could not prove how much of an advantage testosterone gave.
“While a 10% difference in athletic performance (from testosterone) certainly justifies having separate male and female categories, a 1% difference may not justify a separation between athletes in the female category, given the many other relevant variables that also legitimately affect athletic performance. The numbers therefore matter.”
The court gave the IAAF two years to provide research to back up its rule, with a deadline of July 2017. The IAAF still doesn’t have this proof, Tucker and Pielke argue.
In the last month of its court deadline, the IAAF published research in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.
When the IAAF announced its testosterone policy in April 2018, they referred to the study published in 2017 as the data they were using to support their policy.
Dr Stephane Bermon from the IAAF medical and science department said regarding the policy: “The latest research we have undertaken and data we have compiled, show that there is a performance advantage in female athletes with differences of sexual development over the track distances covered by this rule.”
But Pielke, Tucker and Boye analysed a small part of the research by Bermon and his colleague and found that up to a third of numbers it used were incorrect.
Bermon used female athletes’ times from the 2013 World Athletics Championships and their testosterone levels to see if they ran faster.
His study found that athletes with high testosterone levels in the 400m, 800m and 1,500m races had a significant advantage over low-testosterone athletes.
However, Tucker and Pielke found that some athletes’ times were used twice, and race times at the world championships reflected in the study had not happened.
Bermon then admitted there were errors in some of the data.
Semenya’s witnesses write that this erroneous data cannot be used to justify a far-reaching sports policy that expects Semenya and other intersex athletes to alter their bodies. “Such pervasive errors in the four regulated events for which we carefully recreated data call into question the fidelity of the entire analysis.”
They argue there are always mistakes in the field of science but the authors’ failure to correct them and to share more data used in the policy with other scientists meant the IAAF was not doing science but “something else”.
Tucker and Pielke argue: “It is uncontroversial that policy and regulatory decision making (whether in a sport context or other) should be grounded in evidence produced with scientific integrity. We find that this standard has not been met in this case.”
The IAAF suggested this week what its experts may argue.
It said athletes who “have testes and testosterone levels in the male range” must drop their testosterone levels to the female range.
The association argued that the rule was to ensure fair competition for all women and to ensure the continuation of women’s sport.
The world body added: “Indeed, without it, we risk losing the next generation of female athletes, since they will see no path to success in our sport.”
Approached for comment, Tucker said: “I cannot comment at all until after the verdict, and even then we must respect the confidentiality of certain aspects of the proceedings.”