World Athletics’ absurd testosterone rules under spotlight as athletes ruled out of 400m compete in 200m

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Namibian teenager Christine Mboma ran the second fastest 400m time in the world this year, before subsequent tests ruled her out of her preferred event - LUCY NICHOLSON
Namibian teenager Christine Mboma ran the second fastest 400m time in the world this year, before subsequent tests ruled her out of her preferred event - LUCY NICHOLSON

The absurdity of World Athletics’ testosterone regulations loomed large on Monday when three athletes who were banned from competing in the 400 metres qualified for the 200m semi-finals.

While Caster Semenya watched from home, three other female athletes also deemed to have Differences of Sexual Development (DSD) were allowed to compete in Tokyo so long as they did so in certain events only.

The rules state DSD women must reduce their naturally elevated testosterone levels to compete at distances from the 400m up to the mile, after the governing body was only able to produce evidence that the increased hormone amounts aided those specific distances.

Semenya, a double Olympic and three-time world 800m champion, tried and failed to qualify for these Games over 5,000m, while two young women who had been expected to challenge for 400m medals at their debut Olympics were forced into a late switch just a few weeks ago.

Namibian teenagers Christine Mboma and Beatrice Masilingi in April ran the second and third-fastest 400m times in the world this year, before subsequent tests confirmed their DSD status and ruled them out of their preferred event.

Caster Semenya, a double Olympic and three-time world 800m champion, tried and failed to qualify for Tokyo Games over 5,000m - David J. Phillip
Caster Semenya, a double Olympic and three-time world 800m champion, tried and failed to qualify for Tokyo Games over 5,000m - David J. Phillip

They contested the 200m heats on Monday morning alongside Aminatou Seyni, of Niger, who said it “broke my heart” when she was told she could not contest her favoured 400m.

All three women successfully made it through to the semi-finals, with Mboma clocking 22.11 seconds to set a world under-20 record and qualify fastest. But with most of the medal contenders conserving energy by jogging through, a place on the podium will prove difficult.

Speaking to the BBC last week, Masilingi said: “In the beginning I was very down, you can’t come and tell me now I am not a woman. That is really frustrating and gets me on my nerves but there’s nothing we can do about it at the moment.

“It is really unfair because you cannot expect everyone to be the same, everyone to have the same abilities. We are born with different abilities, we can’t be the same, it doesn’t make sense.”

Tuesday’s 800m final will take place without any of the reigning Olympic medalists after all three were ruled out due to the DSD regulations imposed since those Rio Games.

Semenya briefly dabbled in the 200m before attempting, and failing, to qualify over 5,000m. Burundi’s silver medalist Francine Niyonsaba was disqualified in the 5,000m heats and is due to contest the 10,000m.

Margaret Wambui, who won 800m bronze in Rio, did not even attempt to qualify for Tokyo and believes - unlike Semenya - that World Athletics should introduce a separate category specifically for DSD women.

“It would be good if a third category for athletes with high testosterone was introduced,” she told the BBC. “It is wrong to stop people from using their talents.”

Semenya has lost legal challenges at the Court of Arbitration for Sport and Switzerland’s supreme court against World Athletics’s regulations. She has also filed an application to the European Court of Human Rights.

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