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Exclusive Q&A with IAAF's Dr Stephane Berman

Thursday April 26 2018

Dr Stephane Bermon, IAAF's Head of Health and Science department, (left) examines an athlete in the past. PHOTO | IAAF |

Dr Stephane Bermon, IAAF's Head of Health and Science department, (left) examines an athlete in the past. PHOTO | IAAF |  

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Excerpts of Nation Sport’s Q and A with Dr Stephane Berman, Head of Health and Science Department at the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF):

Q: Why did the IAAF come up with these new rules?

A: The reason is basically the same as it was in 2011 when the first regulations were implemented – to create a level playing field in women’s events.

These rules (2011) were challenged at the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) and in 2016, CAS asked us to show scientific evidence of the magnitude of advantage intersex athletes (athletes born with several variations in sex characteristics) held.

Lots of studies by different groups have since been done on the advantages of testosterone levels, but we have taken a conservative approach and not all events are affected, only specific ones.

Q: Which events are these?


A: The scientific observations found out that intersex athletes had significant advantages in events from the 400 metres to the mile, and combined events such as the 4x400 metres relay.

We are taking a conservative approach and this (new rules) is a “living document” that can be amended should further scientific evidence emerge.

Q: What is the thrust of these new rules?

A: What we will ask for eligibility of intersex athletes is that they reduce their testosterone levels to below five nanogrammes per litre.

Most female athletes have normal testosterone levels of between 0.12 to 1.79 nanogrammes per litre with male levels starting at around eight to up to 30 nanogrammes per litre.

We are reducing the threshold to five nanogrammes per litre, and if the levels are higher, then these athletes must seek hormonal treatment, for example through the use of contraceptives.

Surgical procedures, such as the removal of abdominal testes, is not mandatory and we will never force any athlete to undergo surgery.

Q: What happens to those who do not wish to seek hormonal treatment but still want to compete?

A: Those who wouldn’t like to reduce their hormonal levels can only compete in events between 400m and the mile at national competitions, and can only compete at the international level in the short sprints (100m, 200m), the jumps, throws and events longer than the mile.

They can also compete in intersex competitions, if these are introduced in future, at the international level.

Q: You insist that only the IAAF will test athletes to ascertain their hormonal levels, and not the national federations. Why is this?

A: We have to deal with a lot of these cases, and also have to maintain high levels of integrity.

In some countries, there is lack of confidentiality and information leaks.

By only the IAAF handling these cases is a guarantee of quality. The less information passes through many hands, the better.

We will also be relying on an expert panel during investigations of these cases. These are specialists who will be dealing with samples and the information they receive, without knowing which athlete the samples belong to.

Q: Obviously, intersex athletes or athletes with differences of sexual development will require lots of counselling…

A: As part of the new rules, we are introducing an Ombudsman, appointed by both the athlete and the IAAF’s Health and Science Department who will help the athlete understand about the processes, for instance what kind of treatment to be used as recommended by the health professionals.

But the athlete will always make the final decision on this.

Q: The new rules apply from November 1. Will the titles and record of athletes with hyperandrogenism prior to this date be affected?

A: These records will not be affected.

We are operating as though there are no rules currently, and only after November 1 will these be affected.

We are effectively giving a six-month period from May to November for intersex athletes to reduce their testosterone levels to within the official level.