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Editorials, Sports

High Testosterone: A Game-Changer in Sports?

In sports, some people might have more testosterone naturally, which can give them an advantage in things that need strong muscles.

  • Toyosi Afolayan
  • 28th August 2023

In the world of sports, where resilience, strength, and determination collide, athletes constantly push the boundaries of human capability. However, the concept of gender and its implications on athletic performance adds another layer of complexity to the narrative. Recently, the spotlight has been on women athletes with elevated testosterone levels, prompting discussions about fairness, biology, and equality in sports. In this article, BOUNCE delves into the effects of high testosterone levels in women athletes and provide real-life examples that shed light on this evolving topic.


Understanding Testosterone:


Testosterone, often associated with male characteristics, is a hormone present in both men and women, albeit in different quantities. It plays a crucial role in muscle growth, bone density, and the overall regulation of the body’s physiological processes. While men generally have higher levels of testosterone, women also have trace amounts that contribute to their health and athletic performance.


Let’s break down testosterone in a simple way:


Imagine your body is like a car engine. Just like how a car needs fuel to run, your body needs different things to work properly. One of these things is called “hormones,” which are like messengers that tell your body what to do.


Now, testosterone is a special kind of hormone that helps your body do certain things. It’s like the worker in charge of making your muscles strong and your bones sturdy. It also helps you grow hair in certain places and makes you feel energized.


Boys and girls both have testosterone, but boys usually have a bit more of it. This is why boys’ bodies might look different from girls’ bodies. It’s kind of like how different cars have different engines – some are bigger and some are smaller.


In sports, some people might have more testosterone naturally, which can give them an advantage in things that need strong muscles, like running or lifting things. But just like in a fair race, sports have rules to make sure everyone has a fair chance. Sometimes, people talk about these rules and decide how to make things fair for everyone.


So, in simple words, testosterone is a special helper hormone that makes your body strong, helps you grow, and gives you energy. And just like in a game, everyone needs to follow the rules to play fair.



Elevated Testosterone in Women Athletes:


Some women naturally possess higher levels of testosterone due to a condition called hyperandrogenism. This condition can lead to increased muscle mass, strength, and, in some cases, improved athletic performance. However, the presence of elevated testosterone levels in women athletes has sparked debates within the sports community, particularly in events where physical advantages come into play.


Caster Semenya, a South African middle-distance runner, brought the issue of elevated testosterone levels to global attention. Known for her dominance in the 800 meters, Semenya’s performances raised questions about the fairness of competition. In 2019, the International Association of Athletics Federations (now World Athletics) introduced regulations requiring women athletes with high testosterone levels to lower them through medication to compete in certain events. 


According to the regulations, athletes with abnormalities in sexual development (DSDs) that cause high testosterone levels must lower them to those of “a healthy woman with ovaries” in order to compete in women’s events. They might have monthly injections, take the pill, or have the testes surgically removed.

World Athletics said it stood by its rules, which would remain in place for now.



“We remain of the view that the DSD regulations are a necessary, reasonable and proportionate means of protecting fair competition in the female category as the Court of Arbitration for Sport and Swiss Federal Tribunal both found, after a detailed and expert assessment of the evidence.”


The rules of the international governing body were enacted by the Court of Arbitration for Sport in 2019 in order to ensure equitable female competition.


At the time, Semenya said the rules were discriminatory, and contraceptive pills made her feel “constantly sick”. She lost her appeal to the SFT the following year to set aside the 2019 CAS ruling. World Athletics has consistently said the regulations are aimed at creating a level playing field for all athletes.


Semenya won gold in the women’s 800 metres at the 2016 Olympic Games and is also a three-time world champion in the distance. The regulations, initially applied to races of 400 metres to a mile, were expanded in March 2023 to include all female track events, preventing Semenya from relaunching her career by running longer distances.


Balancing Fairness and Inclusion:


The discussions surrounding elevated testosterone levels in women athletes are far from straightforward. On one hand, regulations that require athletes to lower their testosterone levels challenge the principles of inclusivity and diversity in sports. On the other hand, maintaining a level playing field is essential to preserving the integrity of competition. Striking the right balance between biology, fairness, and equality is a complex task that requires thoughtful consideration and informed decision-making.


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