Bioethics Blogs

Guest Post: Track Authorities Are Wrong To Ban Women With Naturally High Testosterone levels

Michael S. Dauber, MA

 According to a story by Catherine Caruso published in STAT News this week, authorities at the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) are getting set to debate whether or not women with hyperandrogenism, or higher-than-expected testosterone levels, should be restricted from competing against women with “normal” or “expected” levels. The debate over the IAAF rules began in 2011, when a rule was first created to prevent women with high testosterone levels competing because of the belief that their hormone levels gave them an unfair advantage. The rule was challenged in 2015, and the IAAF was given two years to provide further justification for its position.

As Caruso writes, the main focus of the current controversy is the legal case of Dutee Chand, an Indian athlete whose testosterone levels exceed “the 10 nanomoles per liter limit, the level deemed to be the lower end of the ‘male range,’” i.e., the amount of testosterone in the blood typically exhibited by male athletes. Testosterone is widely considered a hormone that assists in athletic performance, given that it increases the rate of muscle development and bone mass, among other traits. The idea behind the IAAF’s position is that “unnaturally” high levels of testosterone that exceed levels typical of one’s gender would give such athletes an unfair advantage over other competitiors. Insofar as the IAAF is concerned with creating the fairest competition possible, the presence of elevated testosterone levels in a select group of athletes, like Chand, presents a serious problem.

The problem with the IAAF’s position, however, is that it overlooks one of the central nuances of sporting ethics.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.