Representatives of the United Nations have hit out in a scathing joint letter to the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF), warning the global body it is in danger of committing multiple human rights violations if it implements new gender rules which could sideline various athletes including South African middle-distance ace Caster Semenya.
In a letter addressed to IAAF president Sebastian Coe on September 18, independent experts representing various sub-committees and working groups appointed by the United Nations Human Rights Council (including medical and legal experts) called on the athletics organisation to reconsider its decision.
The letter raised “serious concerns” around the new regulations, which allegedly reinforced negative stereotypes and stigma around hyperandrogenic women, and it claimed athletes faced the danger of being coerced into undergoing medical treatment or surgeries which could cause “irreversible harm”.
The 10-page document also suggested there were “methodological flaws” in the scientific research used as evidence by the IAAF to support its new regulations, alleging that various studies had reached contradictory conclusions.
“The eligibility criteria and the procedures for their implementation set forth in these regulations appear to contravene international human rights norms and standards including the right to equality and non-discrimination, the right to the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health, the right to physical and bodily integrity, and the right to freedom from torture, and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment and harmful practices,” the letter read.
The new IAAF rules, set to be implemented in November, would force athletes with hyperandrogenism to lower their natural testosterone levels in order to compete internationally against women.
With the regulations limited to events ranging in distance from 400m to the mile (1.609km), the IAAF had been accused of targeting 800m world champion Semenya and other African middle-distance runners.
“The regulations appear to have ignored all other natural physical and biological traits, as well as social and economic factors that affect sports performance,” according to the UN experts.
“The lack of evidence that explicitly compares and addresses the impacts of these different factors leads to the conclusion that this may be a targeted and non-objective approach in contravention of non-discrimination standards.
“It further appears to be counter to the IAAF’s goals to pursue fair and meaningful competition.”
With Athletics SA and Semenya preparing to take the matter to the Court of Arbitration for Sport, in an attempt to have the regulations overturned, UN experts were expected to be approached to appear as witnesses in defence of their case.