Athlete Ally & Women’s Sports Foundation: IAAF Policy Based on Flawed Data, Violates Women Athletes’ Human Rights

On July 10, Athlete Ally, Women’s Sports Foundation and prominent members of the global athletic community sent an open letter to the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) Council calling on them to rescind their discriminatory policy against female athletes with naturally elevated testosterone. IAAF responded on July 17 to say they have not and never will prevent women’s access to athletics; however, their actions through this ill-informed policy do just that.

Today, Athlete Ally and The Women’s Sports Foundation issued a response to IAAF’s statement, highlighting the lack of reliable evidence backing up their claims and the human rights violations resulting from this new policy. Please find the full letter below sent to Lord Coe of the IAAF, and share with your networks on Twitter and Facebook.

Dear Lord Coe,

Despite sentiments included in your letter, we feel that the IAAF is, in fact, trying to prevent women from competing in athletics. Women do not have a “choice” if they are forced to compete in a male category or an intersex category which, to our knowledge, does not exist. Furthermore, we are deeply troubled by your standing behind data that is fundamentally flawed to do so.

Though the IAAF cites scientific evidence to justify this policy, the fact remains that you have yet to release any meaningful evidence to support your position. While we appreciate your concerns regarding the privacy of athletes, there is a tremendous need for reliable and sound science in this field before policies to limit women’s participation are put in place. In fact, many independent researchers have called out the IAAF data as flawed; the integrity of your methodology has been questioned (Karkazis & Meyerowitz-Katz, 2017; Sőnksen et al., 2018; Pielke Jr., Tucker & Boye 2018; Gelman 2017; Menier, 2018; Franklin, Ospina Betancurt, & Camporesi, 2018). Moreover, in 2015, the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) overturned an almost identical IAAF regulation. As you know, CAS carefully weighed an extensive body of scientific evidence and was unable to conclude that the impact of naturally elevated testosterone on women’s performance was so much more substantial than the benefits caused by other factors, such as nutrition, access to specialist training facilities and coaching, and other genetic and biological variations. In its ruling, CAS considered the rights of all women athletes as set out in the Olympic Charter and IAAF Constitution and concluded that the regulation was discriminatory and infringed on the rights of a minority group.

We understand that the women’s category is a restricted category; however, to compare the restricted nature of women’s sports to youth sports is paternalistic and only further infantilizes women’s athletics. Sports that are divided by weight to establish fair competition are also not analogous; athletes choose which weight class in which to compete and are never forced by the sport governing body to medically alter their body in order to compete in a particular weight class. Therefore, these comparisons are neither fair nor accurate.

Furthermore, what remains concerning is that the IAAF’s most recent regulation likely violates human rights laws of numerous countries around the world. With policies in place that violate the fundamental human rights of women and prevent them from competing, you are dismantling, not “protecting,” women’s sports and also hampering worldwide efforts to create a safe and inclusive environment for future generations of girls and women.

Once again, we urge you to rescind this discriminatory policy.


Athlete Ally & Women’s Sports Foundation