New definition of ‘female’ by IAFF

Changing sex and gender is a rare event – unless, of course, you are a professional athlete. The rules who is allowed to compete in the male and female categories respectively are changing relatively quickly – often enough to turn male athletes into female ones or vice versa more than once in their careers. For the Olympic Games, after tests based on phenotypes, external genitalia and chromosomes, the level of testosterone is currently used for ‘gender verification’ test.

Above all, this afflicts intersex athletes, who are sometimes forced to undergo genital surgery to continue their professional careers, either to reduce a perceived advantage over other athletes (namely high testosterone levels) or to conform to gender expectations that have nothing to do with competition (namely clitoridectomy).

Now the IAAF has come up with new rules concerning which athletes can compete in the male and female categories of some of the events it organises (see the BBC report for details, or indeed the IAFF homepage). According to the new rules, which will come into effect in November 2018, the main criterion to qualify for female competition is a natural blood testosteron level below 5 nmol per litre. In addition, female athletes must also be registered as female or intersex ‘or equivalent’. An exception seems to be made for athletes who are insensitive to natural testosteron.

The reason for these new rules are, according to the IAFF, that high testosterone ‘provides significant performance advantages in female athletes’; to guarantee fair competition, according to the IAFF, women and intersex persons with high testosterone levels therefore have to compete with men.

This is a complete reversal of the current rules. In 2009, the IAFF had claimed that high testosteron in female athletes was among the ‘conditions that accord no advantage over other females’ (see and for this reason was not used in the definition of ‘male’ and ‘female’ for professional sport events. The IOC, however, in 2012 had given up its previous ‘sex test’ methods and since then treats persons with a natural testosterone level of 10 nmol per litre as ‘male’. To be sure, thge (different) testosterone levels quoted by the IAFF and the IOC are a sufficient, not a necessary condition for being ‘male’. Men with lower testosterone levels are still allowed to compete as men, and are not required to undergo genital surgery or take drugs; only female and intersex persons are required to do so under the appropriate circumstances. In the case of the new IOC rules, very soon after they were announced the first female athletes underwent such surgergy, the effects of which go well beyond their professional career – and unlike the rules that made them undertake them cannnot be undone.

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Christof Rolker (2018, 26. April). New definition of ‘female’ by IAFF. Männlich-weiblich-zwischen. Abgerufen am 23. Mai 2024, von

Christof Rolker

Prof. Dr. Christof Rolker, Historiker an der Universität Bamberg.

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Christof Rolker

Prof. Dr. Christof Rolker, Historiker an der Universität Bamberg.

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