Asser International Sports Law Blog

Our International Sports Law Diary
The Asser International Sports Law Centre is part of the T.M.C. Asser Instituut

The boundaries of the “premium sports rights” category and its competition law implications. By Marine Montejo

Editor’s note: Marine Montejo is a graduate from the College of Europe in Bruges and is currently an Intern at the ASSER International Sports Law Centre.

In its decisions regarding the joint selling of football media rights (UEFA, Bundesliga, FA Premier league), the European Commission insisted that premium media rights must be sold through a non-discriminatory and transparent tender procedure, in several packages and for a limited period of time in order to reduce foreclosure effects in the downstream market. These remedies ensure that broadcasters are able to compete for rights that carry high audiences and, for pay TV, a stable number of subscriptions. In line with these precedents, national competition authorities have tried to ensure compliance with remedy packages. The tipping point here appears to be the premium qualification of sport rights on the upstream market of commercialization of sport TV rights.

This begs the question: which sport TV rights must be considered premium? More...

Guest Blog - Mixed Martial Arts (MMA): Legal Issues by Laura Donnellan

Editor's note: Laura Donnellan is a lecturer at University of Limerick. You can find her latest publications here.


On Tuesday the 12th of April, João Carvalho passed away in the Beaumont Hospital after sustaining serious injuries from a mixed martial arts (MMA) event in Dublin on the previous Saturday. The fighter was knocked out in the third round of a welterweight fight against Charlie Ward. Aside from the tragic loss of life, the death of Carvalho raises a number of interesting legal issues. This opinion piece will discuss the possible civil and criminal liability that may result from the untimely death of the Portuguese fighter.

It is important to note at the outset that MMA has few rules and permits wrestling holds, punching, marital arts throws and kicking. MMA appears to have little regulation and a lack of universally accepted, standardised rules. There is no international federation or governing body that regulates MMA. It is largely self-regulated. MMA is not recognised under the sports and governing bodies listed by Sport Ireland, the statutory body established by the Sport Ireland Act 2015 which replaced the Irish Sports Council. MMA is considered a properly constituted sport so long as the rules and regulations are adhered to, there are appropriate safety procedures, the rules are enforced by independent referees, and it appropriately administered.

The Acting Minister for Sport, Michael Ring, has called for the regulation of MMA. Currently there are no minimum requirements when it comes to medical personnel; nor are there any particular requirements as to training of medical personnel. The promoter decides how many doctors and paramedics are to be stationed at events. In February 2014 Minister Ring wrote to 17 MMA promoters in Ireland requesting that they implement safety precautions in line with those used by other sports including boxing and rugby.

Despite this lack of regulation, this does not exempt MMA from legal liability as the discussion below demonstrates.More...

Guest Blog - The Role of Sport in the Recognition of Transgender and Intersex Rights by Conor Talbot

Editor's note: Conor Talbot is a Solicitor at LK Shields Solicitors in Dublin and an Associate Researcher at Trinity College Dublin. He can be contacted at, you can follow him on Twitter at @ConorTalbot and his research is available at This piece was first published on the blog.

Sport is an integral part of the culture of almost every nation and its ability to shape perceptions and influence public opinion should not be underestimated.  The United Nations has highlighted the potential for using sport in reducing discrimination and inequality, specifically by empowering girls and women.  Research indicates that the benefits of sport include enhancing health and well-being, fostering empowerment, facilitating social inclusion and challenging gender norms.

In spite of the possible benefits, the successful implementation of sport-related initiatives aimed at gender equity involves many challenges and obstacles.  Chief amongst these is the way that existing social constructs of masculinity and femininity — or socially accepted ways of expressing what it means to be a man or woman in a particular socio-cultural context — play a key role in determining access, levels of participation, and benefits from sport.  This contribution explores recent developments in the interaction between transgender and intersex rights and the multi-billion dollar industry that the modern Olympic Games has become.  Recent reports show that transgender people continue to suffer from the glacial pace of change in social attitudes and, while there has been progress as part of a long and difficult journey to afford transgender people full legal recognition through the courts, it seems clear that sport could play an increasingly important role in helping change or better inform social attitudes.More...

Unpacking Doyen’s TPO Deals: The Final Whistle

Footballleaks is now operating since nearly half a year and has already provided an incredible wealth of legal documents both on TPO (and in particular Doyen’s contractual arrangements) and on the operation of the transfer system in football (mainly transfer agreements, player contracts and agents contracts). This constant stream of information is extremely valuable for academic research to get a better grip on the functioning of the transfer market. It is also extremely relevant for the shaping of public debates and political decisions on the regulation of this market. As pointed out on the footballleaks website, it has triggered a series of press investigations in major European news outlets.

In this blog, I want to come to a closure on our reporting on Doyen’s TPO deals. In the past months, we have already dealt with the specific cases of FC Twente and Sporting Lisbon, reviewed Doyen’s TPO deals with Spanish clubs, as well as discussed the compatibility of the TPO ban with EU law. In the Sporting Lisbon case, Doyen has since earned an important legal victory in front of the CAS (the ensuing award was just published by Footballleaks). This victory should not be overstated, however, it was not unexpected due to the liberal understanding of the freedom of contract under Swiss law. As such it does not support the necessity of TPO as an investment practice and does not threaten the legality (especially under EU law) of FIFA’s ban.

In our previous blogs on Doyen’s TPO deals we decided to focus only on specific deals, Twente and Sporting Lisbon, or a specific country (Spain). However, nearly six months after the whole footballleaks project started, we can now provide a more comprehensive analysis of the TPO deals signed by Doyen. Though, it is still possible that other, yet unknown, deals would be revealed, I believe that few of Doyen’s TPO agreements are still hidden. Thanks to footballleaks, we now know how Doyen operates, we have a precise idea of its turnover, its return on investments and the pool of clubs with which it signed a TPO agreement. Moreover, we have a good understanding of the contractual structure used by Doyen in those deals. This blog will offer a brief synthesis and analysis of this data.More...

Unpacking Doyen’s TPO Deals: TPO and Spanish football, friends with(out) benefits?

Update: On 14 April footballleaks released a series of documents concerning Sporting de Gijón. Therefore, I have updated this blog on 19 April to take into account the new information provided.  

Doyen Sports’ TPO (or TPI) model has been touted as a “viable alternative source of finance much needed by the large majority of football clubs in Europe". These are the words of Doyen’s CEO, Nélio Lucas, during a debate on (the prohibition of) TPO held at the European Parliament in Brussels last January. During that same debate, La Liga’s president, Javier Tebas, contended that professional football clubs, as private undertakings, should have the right to obtain funding by private investors to, among other reasons, “pay off the club’s debts or to compete better”. Indeed, defendants of the TPO model continuously argue that third party investors, such as Doyen, only have the clubs’ best interests in mind, being the only ones capable and willing to prevent professional football clubs from going bankrupt. This claim constitutes an important argument for the defendants of the TPO model, such as La Liga and La Liga Portuguesa, who have jointly submitted a complaint in front of the European Commission against FIFA’s ban of the practice.[1]

The eruption of footballleaks provided the essential material necessary to test this claim. It allows us to better analyse and understand the functioning of third party investment and the consequences for clubs who use these services. The leaked contracts between Doyen and, for example, FC Twente, showed that the club’s short term financial boost came at the expense of its long-term financial stability. If a club is incapable of transferring players for at least the minimum price set in Doyen’s contracts, it will find itself in a financially more precarious situation than before signing the Economic Rights Participation Agreement (ERPA). TPO might have made FC Twente more competitive in the short run, in the long run it pushed the club (very) close to bankruptcy.

More than four months after its launch, footballleaks continues to publish documents from the football world, most notably Doyen’s ERPAs involving Spanish clubs.More...

International and European Sports Law – Monthly Report – March 2016. By Marine Montejo

Editor’s note: This report compiles all relevant news, events and materials on International and European Sports Law based on the daily coverage provided on our twitter feed @Sportslaw_asser. You are invited to complete this survey via the comments section below, feel free to add links to important cases, documents and articles we might have overlooked. 

Marine Montejo is a graduate from the College of Europe in Bruges and is currently an Intern at the ASSER International Sports Law Centre.

The Headlines

The Belgian Court of Appeal released its judgment this month regarding Doyen’s legal battle against the FIFA TPO ban. The Appeal Court confirmed the first instance decision and ruled out any provisional measures to block the ban’s implementation (for an in depth review, see our blog post). More importantly, the Court reaffirmed that Swiss based sport federations are liable in front of EU Members’ States courts when EU competition law is involved. That means the next important step for this legal battle is whether or not the European Commission is going to open a formal proceeding (Doyen already lodged a complaint) to assess the compatibility, and more importantly, the proportionality of the TPO ban with EU law. Only a preliminary ruling by the CJEU could hasten the decision if one of the European national courts, hearing a case brought by Doyen (France or Belgium), decided to refer a preliminary question.More...

Doyen’s Crusade Against FIFA’s TPO Ban: The Ruling of the Appeal Court of Brussels

Since last year, Doyen Sports, represented by Jean-Louis Dupont, embarked on a legal crusade against FIFA’s TPO ban. It has lodged a competition law complaint with the EU Commission and started court proceedings in France and Belgium. In a first decision on Doyen’s request for provisory measures, the Brussels Court of First Instance rejected the demands raised by Doyen and already refused to send a preliminary reference to the CJEU. Doyen, supported by the Belgium club Seraing, decided to appeal this decision to the Brussels Appeal Court, which rendered its final ruling on the question on 10 March 2016.[1] The decision (on file with us) is rather unspectacular and in line with the first instance judgment. This blog post will rehash the three interesting aspects of the case.

·      The jurisdiction of the Belgian courts

·      The admissibility of Doyen’s action

·      The conditions for awarding provisory measures More...

International and European Sports Law – Monthly Report – February 2016

Editor’s note: This report compiles all relevant news, events and materials on International and European Sports Law based on the daily coverage provided on our twitter feed @Sportslaw_asser. You are invited to complete this survey via the comments section below, feel free to add links to important cases, documents and articles we might have overlooked. 

The Headlines

The eagerly awaited FIFA Presidential elections of 26 February provided for a “new face” at the pinnacle of international football for the first time since 1998. One could argue whether Infantino is the man capable of bringing about the reform FIFA so desperately needs or whether he is simply a younger version of his predecessor Blatter. More...

Book Review: Despina Mavromati & Matthieu Reeb, The Code of the Court of Arbitration for Sport—Commentary, Cases, and Materials (Wolters Kluwer International 2015). By Professor Matthew Mitten

Editor’s note: Professor Mitten is the Director of the National Sports Law Institute and the LL.M. in Sports Law program for foreign lawyers at Marquette University Law School in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He currently teaches courses in Amateur Sports Law, Professional Sports Law, Sports Sponsorship Legal and Business Issues Workshop, and Torts. Professor Mitten is a member of the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), and has served on the ad hoc Division for the XXI Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia.

This Book Review is published at 26 Marquette Sports Law Review 247 (2015).

This comprehensive treatise of more than 700 pages on the Code of the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) (the Code) is an excellent resource that is useful to a wide audience, including attorneys representing parties before the CAS, CAS arbitrators, and sports law professors and scholars, as well as international arbitration counsel, arbitrators, and scholars.  It also should be of interest to national court judges and their law clerks because it facilitates their understanding of the CAS arbitration process for resolving Olympic and international sports disputes and demonstrates that the Code provides procedural fairness and substantive justice to the parties, thereby justifying judicial recognition and enforcement of its awards.[1]  Because the Code has been in existence for more than twenty years—since November 22, 1994—and has been revised four times, this book provides an important and much needed historical perspective and overview that identifies and explains well-established principles of CAS case law and consistent practices of CAS arbitrators and the CAS Court Office.  Both authors formerly served as Counsel to the CAS and now serve as Head of Research and Mediation at CAS and CAS Secretary General, respectively, giving them the collective expertise and experience that makes them eminently well-qualified to research and write this book.More...

International and European Sports Law – Monthly Report – January 2016

Editor’s note: Our first innovation for the year 2016 will be a monthly report compiling relevant news, events and materials on International and European Sports Law based on the daily coverage provided on our twitter feed @Sportslaw_asser. You are invited to complete this survey via the comments section below, feel free to add links to important cases, documents and articles we might have overlooked. 

The Headlines

The world of professional sport has been making headlines for the wrong reasons in January. Football’s governing body FIFA is in such a complete governance and corruption mess that one wonders whether a new President (chosen on 26 February[1]) will solve anything. More recently, however, it is the turn of the athletics governing body, IAAF, to undergo “the walk of shame”. On 14 January the WADA Independent Commission released its second report into doping in international athletics. More...

Asser International Sports Law Blog | SFT rejects Semenya appeal: nothing changes - By Andy Brown

Asser International Sports Law Blog

Our International Sports Law Diary
The Asser International Sports Law Centre is part of the T.M.C. Asser Instituut

SFT rejects Semenya appeal: nothing changes - By Andy Brown

Editor's note: Andy Brown is a freelance journalist who has been writing about the governance of sport for over 15 years. He is the editor of The Sports Integrity Initiative where this blog appeared first.

For the last three days, I have been struggling with what to write regarding the Swiss Federal Tribunal’s (SFT) Decision to dismiss a challenge from Caster Semenya and Athletics South Africa (ASA) against the Court of Arbitration for Sport’s (CAS) Decision to dismiss a challenge to the Eligibility Regulations for the Female Classification (Athletes with Differences of Sex Development), otherwise known as the DSD Regulations. From reading World Athletics’ statement welcoming the ruling, one could be forgiven for thinking that it had won a major trial. Sports journalists, accustomed to covering events now curtailed by Covid-19, focus on the fact that Semenya has ‘lost’ her case against the DSD Regulations. Neither assertion is strictly accurate.

The SFT’s powers to review the CAS’s ruling are severely limited. It can only consider whether the CAS Decision violates ‘widely recognised principles of public order’ on Swiss public policy grounds. The SFT has only reversed a decision based on a a violation of Swiss public policy once in 30 years.

The SFT didn’t reconsider the evidence put forward to the CAS. ‘For there to be incompatibility with public policy, it is not enough that the evidence has been poorly assessed, that a finding of fact is manifestly false or that a rule of law has been clearly violated’, its Decision reads. ‘The only question to be resolved is in fact whether or not the verdict of the CAS renders the referred award incompatible with substantive public policy’. 

There were questions about whether the appeal from Semenya and ASA qualified to be reviewed by the SFT in the first place. World Athletics is a private organisation headquartered in Monaco, and the SFT was troubled as to whether such a complaint brought by a South African athlete against an overseas private organisation is capable of violating Swiss public policy.

‘It is doubtful whether the prohibition of discriminatory measures falls within the scope of the restrictive concept of public order when the discrimination is committed by a private person and occurs in relations between individuals’, the Decision quotes from its pervious 29 July 2019 Decision, which refused the ASA’s request to provisionally suspend the application of the DSD Regulations. ‘In any event, there is no need to examine this question further here since […] the award under appeal does not in any way establish discrimination which would be contrary to public order’

The SFT ruled that the CAS was correct to uphold conditions of participation for 46 XY DSD athletes in order to guarantee fair competition for certain disciplines in female athletics. In doing so, the SFT was ruling on whether the decision taken by the CAS violates public policy, based only on the complaints brought forward by Semenya and ASA. 

Semenya and the ASA had challenged the CAS Decision based around the idea that the DSD Regulations are discriminatory. The CAS held that they are discriminatory, but agreed with the IAAF (as World Athletics was then named) that such discrimination was necessary to protect its female category. The SFT ruled that even if the discriminatory rules of a private organisation such as the IAAF were considered able to pose a threat to public order, Semenya and the ASA had failed to demonstrate that the CAS Decision was so egregious that it posed such a threat.

‘Caster Semenya essentially alleges a violation of the prohibition of discrimination’, reads the Swiss Federal Supreme Court statement. ‘The CAS has issued a binding decision based on the unanimous opinion of the experts who were consulted that testosterone is the main factor for the different performance levels of the sexes in athletics; according to the CAS, women with the “46 XY DSD” gene variant have a testosterone level comparable to men, which gives them an insurmountable competitive advantage and enables them to beat female athletes without the “46 XY DSD” variant. Based on these findings, the CAS decision cannot be challenged. Fairness in sport is a legitimate concern and forms a central principle of sporting competition. It is one of the pillars on which competition is based. The European Court of Human Rights also attaches particular importance to the aspect of fair competition. In addition to this significant public interest, the CAS rightly considered the other relevant interests, namely the private interests of the female athletes running in the “women” category.’

Such strong support for the principle behind its DSD Regulations was rightly welcomed by World Athletics. Its statement asserted that the SFT ‘acknowledged that innate characteristics can distort the fairness of competitions’. I would argue that the SFT ruling didn’t do this, but rather found that a CAS Decision asserting this didn’t violate Swiss public policy. Semantics, perhaps.

Likewise, when World Athletics quotes the SFT Decision as confirming that ‘It is above all up to the sports federations to determine to what extent a particular physical advantage is likely to distort competition and, if necessary, to introduce legally admissible eligibility rules to remedy this state of affairs’, it is paraphrasing two texts quoted in the SFT Decision. The first is ‘La qualification juridique des rules autonomes des organizations sportive’ by Jérôme Jaquier, 2004. ‘Inborn characteristics specific to athletes in a particular group can also distort the fairness of competition’, the SFT Decision quotes from Jaquier. ‘When they enact regulations, the objective of sports federations is to ensure fair and equitable competition’.

The context of the second quote, from ‘Sportrecht – Berücksichtigung der Interessen des Sports in der Rechtsordnung’ by Martin Kaiser, 2011, is even more interesting. It is preceded with a statement from the Swiss Federal Supreme Court, which reads: ‘It is not for the Federal Court to make, abstractly, comparisons between the disciplines to assess whether a particular athlete has an advantage that makes sporting competition meaningless’

‘It is above all for the sporting federations to determine to what extent a particular physical advantage is liable to distort competition’, the SFT Decision quotes from Kaiser. ‘And, if so, to establish legally admissible eligibility rules to remedy this state of affairs’. 

Again, such details might be considered as semantics. But – I would argue – important semantics. Reading the media maelstrom that has resulted from the SFT Decision, one could be forgiven for assuming that Semenya has lost her case, and has no chance of ever defending her 800m title. However, a statement issued by her lawyers reveals that she intends to challenge the ruling in European and domestic courts.

“I am very disappointed by this ruling, but refuse to let World Athletics drug me or stop me from being who I am”, the statement continues. “Excluding female athletes or endangering our health solely because of our natural abilities puts World Athletics on the wrong side of history. I will continue to fight for the human rights of female athletes, both on the track and off the track, until we can all run free the way we were born. I know what is right and will do all I can to protect basic human rights, for young girls everywhere.”

Men vs. Women 

World records prove that men run faster and throw further than women. As explained in the CAS Decision, the IAAF modified the DSD Regulations to exclude XX athletes from their scope. By doing this, it was able to frame the DSD Regulations as mitigating any advantage held by ‘biologically male’ athletes in international events run between 400m and one mile in its female category.

Caster Semenya fits the IAAF definition as ‘biologically male’, as she has one of the five DSDs outlined in the DSD Regulations, and competes in the Restricted Events. Semenya’s status as a 46 XY DSD athlete was confirmed by the Swiss Federal Supreme Court on 29 July 2019, when it revoked a supra-provisional suspension of the application of the DSD Regulations to Semenya. ‘Mokgadi Caster Semenya is an “athlete concerned” within the meaning of Article 2.2 of the DSD Regulations’, reads its 29 July interlocutory order (available here in French).

The Semenya case isn’t exclusively about whether men should be able to line up against women in female events – although the debate has sometimes been framed that way. Caster Semenya is a woman, who has been outed as having a DSD by World Athletics’ relentless case against her, which began when she was 18 (she is now 29). She is a 46 XY karyotype woman who has been very successfully competing (and this is not insignificant) against 46 XX karyotype women.

The Semenya case is firstly about whether World Athletics has conclusively proven that women who are 46 XY DSD karyotype hold a significant advantage in the events the rules cover. Secondly, it is also about whether it has proven that such an advantage is so great that it renders competition between female and DSD athletes in the covered events meaningless.

Such an argument should always be decided scientifically. The SFT Decision doesn’t do that. There were serious concerns about the scientific evidence used to support the DSD Regulations both before, during, and after the CAS Decision. Although we have been through some of these concerns before, they are worth restating, as they have yet to be addressed.

There are also concerns about the way in which sport’s rules and regulations have been moulded and changed in order to accommodate the DSD Regulations. They have also not been addressed. But, firstly, it is important to explain what the DSD Rules seek to regulate and why.

The DSD Rules

The DSD Rules, as they have been called since November 2019 (PDF below), cover athletes with one of five listed DSDs competing in international events run between 400m and one mile in World Athletics’ female category, if their endogenous (natural) testosterone levels are above 5nmol/L and have an ‘androgenising effect’ (i.e. if that testosterone is taken up by their androgen receptors and boosts their physiology). Athletes who meet these conditions must use hormonal contraceptives to reduce their testosterone levels to below 5 nmol/L for six months prior to competing, and must maintain testosterone levels at below 5 nmol/L in order to continue competing.

Testosterone is a natural, endogenous (internally produced) steroidal hormone. In the XY karyotype, it is understood that testosterone is the single primary hormone driving the endocrine system, a chemical messaging system that regulates the physiology. In the XX karyotype, it is understood that two primary hormones – oestrogen and progesterone – perform the same function, along with testosterone in much smaller amounts. 

The logic behind the DSD Rules – explained during Semenya’s challenge to them – is that DSD athletes develop an unfair advantage over XX karyotype women due to the continued action of ‘elevated’ testosterone on their XY karyotype physiology from puberty onwards. I have termed this a ‘legacy advantage’, since not every DSD athlete will automatically become an elite runner between 800m and one mile in World Athletics’ female category. Correct diet, dedication, and training over time is also required.  

The DSD Rules seek to reconcile this ‘legacy advantage’ by requiring medical intervention in the present. It could be argued that World Athletics is medically handicapping DSD athletes in the present for an advantage they have strived to develop over time. But as explained, the SFT was not required to consider that conundrum.

‘Affected athletes can either (a) take a daily oral contraceptive pill; or (b) take a monthly injection of a GnrH agonist; or (c) have their testes surgically removed (a ‘gonadectomy’)’, reads Briefing Notes on the Rules published by World Athletics. ‘It is their choice whether or not to have any treatment, and (if so) which treatment to have. In particular, the IAAF does not insist on surgery. The effects of the other two treatments are reversible if and when the athlete decides to stop treatment. Importantly, lowering testosterone in one of these ways is the recognised ‘gender-affirming’ standard of care for any individual (athlete or not) who is 46 XY but has a female gender identity.’

As explained above, the SFT couldn’t make any determination about whether it was ethical to require a 46 XY DSD athlete who is not unwell to take a contraceptive pill designed for 46 XX karyotype females. The CAS did recognise this issue, and found that there were serious side effects on 46 XY DSD individuals who used contraceptive pills designed for XX females to lower their endogenous (internally produced) testosterone to below 10 nmol/L (the DSD Rules set an upper limit of 5 nmol/L).

‘Ms. Semenya described the negative effects that the testosterone-suppressing medication had on her mental and physical health’, reads para.78 of the CAS Decision. ‘Her symptoms included becoming hot and sweating profusely each night and experiencing significant weight gain. She also felt sick constantly, suffered from regular fevers and had constant internal abdominal pain. These symptoms also had an “enormous” effect on her mental state, impeding her mental sharpness and undermining her self-confidence.’

In the XY karyotype, testosterone is the only hormone driving the endocrine system that regulates an individual’s physiology. Therefore, it is understood that reducing it is likely to make people unwell. As the CAS and SFT decisions recognise, XY karyotype individuals typically have circulating testosterone between 7.7 nmol/L to 29.4 nmol/L. 

Of course, reducing this to 5 mol/L will make an XY karyotype athlete slower. This is because the only natural hormone driving the XY karyotype endocrine system, which supports their physiology, has been seriously curtailed. The same effect cannot be replicated in the XX karyotype, since three hormones drive the endocrine system and a much lower baseline level of testosterone (0.06 nmol/L to1.68 nmol/L) exists in the first place. 

This is why testosterone deficiency is a recognised as a medical condition that can make XY karyotype people unwell. DSD athletes are XY karyotype, as the IAAF made clear during its arguments against Semenya’s appeal at the CAS. Other XY karyotype athletes, such as Kristen Worley and Sloan Teeple, have also been made unwell due to sport’s rules on testosterone, as have certain DSD athletes who underwent a horrific experience ahead of the London 2012 Olympics. Shockingly, the IAAF used the experience of these medically damaged athletes as evidential support that the DSD Regulations are effective in making 46 XY DSD athletes slower!

Unlike XY karyotype individuals who are transitioning to become XY females, 46 XY DSD athletes usually do not wish to change their physiology through hormonal modification. Their testosterone levels are not ‘elevated’, to borrow World Athletics’ description, but are normal for their karyotype. World Athletics requires them to reduce the primary stimulus for their endocrine system to levels consistent with the XX karyotype in order to compete in events run between 400m and one mile in its female category. 

World Athletics requires 46 XY DSD athletes to undergo potentially damaging hormonal treatment to compete in its female category. Arguably, it requires athletes to ‘feminise’ themselves.

As explained above, this is likely to make 46 XY karyotype athletes unwell, although the SFT didn’t have to examine whether the CAS had assessed this danger sufficiently. Nowhere in the DSD Regulations, or in the Explanatory Notes, is there any mention of measures taken to monitor an athlete’s health after her natural testosterone levels are reduced to below 5 nmol/L.

Show me the science

As detailed in this article, there were two major pieces of scientific evidence used to support the DSD Regulations. The first is 2017’s Paper One, entitled ‘Serum androgen levels and their relation to performance in track and field: mass spectrometry results from 2127 observations in male and female athletes’. Paper Two, published in 2018, is ‘Circulating Testosterone as the Hormonal Basis of Sex Differences in Athletic Performance’.

Paper One has a number of significant issues, discussed in this article under ‘Scientific evidence on performance advantage’. In short, the Paper found a correlation between XX karyotype females with elevated free testosterone and performance at the Daegu 2011 and Moscow 2013 IAAF World Championships, events which were marred by doping. Among the 1,332 female observations in the study, just nine were 46 XY DSD.

Paper Two also has a number of significant issues, detailed under ‘The 2018 Study’ in this article. In short, evidence for increases in muscle mass and strength appear to come from a 2014 Study performed on 62 XX karyotype post-menopausal women (mean age, 53) who had undergone a hysterectomy; it references several other studies in order to support the proposition that DSD athletes benefit from increases in circulating testosterone that increases circulating haemoglobin, which in turn translates to an increase in oxygen transfer; and compares endogenous testosterone levels with increases in muscle mass and strength.

One of the studies it relies on is a 2017 Study examining women with Congenital Adrenal Hyperplasia (CAH), a condition in which the adrenal gland can produce more testosterone. The Study found that in women with CAH, erythropoiesis may be driven by androgens. The proposition is that as DSD athletes have higher levels of testosterone (an androgen), they benefit from increased erythropoiesis (production of oxygen-carrying red blood cells). 

On 9 January 2019, shortly before the CAS hearing on 26 February, the IAAF removed CAH and a CAH variant from the scope of the Regulations. It did so because, in the IAAF’s words, ‘individuals with these DSDs only have high testosterone levels if their adrenal conditions are uncontrolled, in which case they would suffer side-effects that would make elite sports performance impossible’

Yet as explained above, a study examining XX karyotype women with CAH had been used as part of the IAAF’s evidence base in support of the Regulations. It would appear that by carving XX karyotype women and CAH out from the scope of the Regulations, the IAAF negated part of its own evidence base. 

There is more information about scientific inaccuracies in the evidence used to support the DSD Rules here; here; and here. In addition, as previously mentioned, World Athletics used data from athletes medically damaged by its Hyperandrogenism Regulations – the forerunner to the DSD Rules – to prop up the DSD Rules. 

The issue is not that World Athletics hasn’t proven that 46 XY karyotype athletes can run faster or throw further than 46 XX karyotype athletes. Anybody with access to Wikipedia can do that. It is whether World Athletics has proven that by virtue of the effects of testosterone on the 46 XY DSD physiology from puberty onwards, 46 XY DSD athletes have been able to develop an advantage that is so significant that it should be considered unfair in the specific international female events that World Athletics targets. It is here that scientists argue World Athletics falls short (see the Twitter threads here and here).

Moving the goalposts

As already mentioned, today’s DSD Rules are not the same as the DSD Regulations that Semenya challenged. The IAAF amended the DSD Regulations both before and after the CAS heard Semenya’s case against them. The result was that shortly before the CAS hearing, the DSD Regulations applied to five disciplines rather than the seven referred to in the CAS judgment.

World Athletics even sent a lawyer to Play The Game 2019. The lawyer didn’t participate in a debate about the science underpinning the DSD Regulations, but distributed a pre-prepared Paper attacking the presenters and their arguments. Anyone interested in whether World Athletics succeeded should read this article.

The World Athletics Paper references recent research involving the administration of 10mg of testosterone cream daily to athletes. The research found that athletes who administered the cream performed better. Of course they did. This is doping.

A person doped with testosterone is getting something extra. Testosterone doesn’t discriminate. If you administer testosterone, an athlete’s physiology has something that it didn’t have before. Everyone knows this. It is the reason why the application of exogenous (external) testosterone is prohibited in sport. 

The same is not true for 46 XY DSD athletes. Their testosterone levels are endogenous (internal), and are their hormonal normal. 

The forerunner to the DSD Rules were the Hyperandrogenism Regulations. The CAS allowed the IAAF to terminate Dutee Chand’s case against them by promulgating the DSD Regulations. That the CAS would allow a serious grievance to be terminated by simply promulgating new Regulations should ring alarm bells for anyone interested in jurisprudence. 

The CAS Decision also raised questions about whether athletes had given their consent for samples collected for anti-doping purposes to be used for gender verification purposes. As previously reported, the 2021 World Anti-Doping Code has been amended to allow anti-doping samples to be used in this way. Up until 2019, the World Anti-Doping Agency’s International Standards (ISL) prohibited such use.

The Hyperandrogenism were promulgated in May 2011. Article 6.3 of the World Anti-Doping Agency’s (WADA) 2012 International Standard for Laboratories (ISL) mandates that written consent is required from any athlete for a sample collected for anti-doping purposes to be used in any other way. ‘No Sample may be used for any purpose other than as described in Article 6.2 without the Athlete’s written consent’, it reads. ‘Samples used for purposes other than Article 6.2 shall have any means of identification removed such that they cannot be traced back to a particular Athlete’.

Such a prohibition was repeated in the 2015 ISL, but is not present in the 2019 ISL. However, Annex 2.1 of the 2019 ISL mandates: ‘The Laboratories and WADA-Approved Laboratories for the ABP shall follow the Helsinki Accords and any applicable national standards as they relate to the involvement of human subjects in research. Voluntary informed consent shall also be obtained from human subjects in any drug administration studies for the purpose of development of a Reference Collection or proficiency testing materials.’

‘In medical research involving human subjects capable of giving informed consent, each potential subject must be adequately informed of the aims, methods, sources of funding, any possible conflicts of interest, institutional affiliations of the researcher, the anticipated benefits and potential risks of the study and the discomfort it may entail, post-study provisions and any other relevant aspects of the study’, reads Article 26 of the World Medical Association’s (WMA) Helsinki Declaration. ‘The potential subject must be informed of the right to refuse to participate in the study or to withdraw consent to participate at any time without reprisal. Special attention should be given to the specific information needs of individual potential subjects as well as to the methods used to deliver the information.

‘After ensuring that the potential subject has understood the information, the physician or another appropriately qualified individual must then seek the potential subject’s freely-given informed consent, preferably in writing. If the consent cannot be expressed in writing, the non-written consent must be formally documented and witnessed.’

The IAAF’s Competition Medical Guidelines (click here to download) also emphasise that they comply with the Helsinki Declaration. The CAS Decision in Semenya’s case highlights serious questions as to whether athletes provided consent for their anti-doping samples to be used in Paper One. ‘The IAAF relies on the initial consent provided for doping control purposes’, reads the Decision. ‘ASA repeatedly asked the IAAF to disclose copies of the signed consent forms provided by the athletes whose samples and data form the basis of the analysis in BG17 [Paper One]. The IAAF has declined to do so. The Panel considers that it can therefore be inferred that no such forms exist, or that if they do exist they do not assist the IAAF on this issue.’

It would therefore appear that World Athletics relied on evidence obtained from athletes in breach of WADA’s ISL, its own Competition Medical Guidelines and the WMA’s Helsinki Declaration in order to support the DSD Rules. This would also appear to invalidate part of its evidence base, but the CAS Panel didn’t consider this to be important, and the SFT didn’t assess the reliability of the evidence in support of the Rules.

The United Nations, Human Rights Council, and the WMA itself have already expressed concern about this. In September 2018, the Human Rights Special Procedures body of the United Nations wrote to Sebastian Coe, President of World Athletics. Three UN Special Rapporteurs for physical and mental health; torture; and discrimination against women highlight ‘serious concerns’ that the DSD Regulations:

• Contravene human rights standards and norms;
• do not present evidence justifying that they pursue a legitimate aim;
• are not reasonable and objective;
• do not demonstrate proportionality between their aim and effects.

World Athletics’ response was to accuse the UN of not understanding its Rules. ‘It is clear that the author is not across the details of the IAAF regulations nor the facts presented recently at the Court of Arbitration for Sport’, wrote World Athletics in a statement to the BBC, after the UN Human Rights Council reiterated its concerns in March last year. ‘There are many generic and inaccurate statements contained in the motion presented to the UN Human Rights Council so it is difficult to work out where to start’.

In July this year, the Human Rights Council urged UN Member States to prohibit the enforcement of the DSD Rules. Its Report was unequivocal that the DSD Rules represent an infringement of the right for athletes with a DSD to compete. ‘The implementation of female eligibility regulations denies athletes with variations in sex characteristics an equal right to participate in sports and violates the right to non- discrimination more broadly’, it outlines.

In May last year, the WMA reiterated its advice to physicians not to implement the DSD Rules. “We have strong reservations about the ethical validity of these regulations”, said WMA President Dr. Leonid Eidelman. “They are based on weak evidence from a single study, which is currently being widely debated by the scientific community. They are also contrary to a number of key WMA ethical statements and declarations, and as such we are calling for their immediate withdrawal.”

“Caster’s legal defeat is not a victory for World Athletics, nor does it legitimize the CAS or global sport’s ‘system of justice’”, said Brendan Schwab, Executive Director of the World Players Association (WPA), in a statement. “Despite the World Athletics eligibility regulations being condemned as a violation of the human rights of athletes by authorities as eminent as the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCHR), Caster’s human rights could not be properly considered at any stage of the process. In the same report the UNHCHR has identified how sport’s justice system systemically denies athletes of their right to an effective remedy where their human rights have been violated.

“World Athletics flagrantly maintains that, as a private body, it has no responsibility to respect Caster’s internationally recognised human rights. It argued that her rights are to be primarily determined in accordance with the Constitution of World Athletics and the Olympic Charter of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), neither of which uphold the human rights of athletes.”

Herein lies the problem. Sport’s closed arbitration system allowed World Athletics to avoid all of these serious issues, raised by major international bodies, and to welcome the SFT’s inability to consider them as a victory.

Thin end of the wedge

Nobody is arguing that World Athletics shouldn’t be able to exclude ‘male’ athletes from certain ‘female’ categories. World Athletics clearly thinks is approach to its DSD Rules is in line with this proposition, otherwise it wouldn’t have spent so much time, effort, and money defending it. If ‘male’ athletes were inclined to compete in female sport, they would dominate it (although there is no evidence that anyone who identifies as a ‘man’ has ever sought to compete in ‘female’ sport).

Given what we know about determination to win and doping, it isn’t unreasonable to assume that unscrupulous coaches would seek out DSD athletes in order to win, as Paula Radcliffe highlighted. World Athletics is right to point to the prevalence of DSD athletes in the Restricted Events as evidence that they may hold an advantage over XX karyotype athletes who have not benefitted from testosterone’s action on their physiology from puberty onwards.

But is such an advantage ‘unfair’? World Athletics thinks so. It is ‘category defeating’, to borrow its grandstand term. But it doesn’t appear to have done any other research as to how ‘unfair’ the advantage is compared to other advantages within the Restricted Events. The playing field is never level in any sporting event. Does height or stride length also confer an advantage in the Restricted Events? 

Nobody is saying that World Athletics shouldn’t be free to exclude ‘male’ athletes from its ‘female’ categories. However, the danger is that by pegging rules on who can compete in its female category to natural testosterone levels, World Athletics risks making people ill. World Athletics is effectively saying to a 46 XY DSD athlete: use medication not designed for your physiology to reduce your natural hormonal levels, otherwise you cannot compete internationally in our restricted events as a female.

In addition, some of the Restricted Events appear to be arbitrary, leading to conjecture that the DSD Rules are designed to target Caster Semenya. World Athletics refused to listen to the CAS when it asked it to consider deferring the application of the Rules to the 1,500m and one mile events, due to lack of evidence. But this didn’t trouble the SFT.

‘Although the CAS has expressed concerns about the inclusion of these two test events in the DSD Rules and indicated that the IAAF might consider deferring the application of this rule to such events, it nevertheless considered that the IAAF had provided evidence for all “covered events”, as well as a rational explanation as to how this category was defined’, reads the SFT Decision. ‘In these circumstances, this result cannot be qualified as contrary to public order’.

The problem is that the pegging of eligibility rules in female categories to natural testosterone levels doesn’t end with events run between 400m and one mile, or with the DSD Rules. The CAS Decision permitted World Athletics to add further events to the Rules in the future. ‘The majority of the Panel observes that it may be that, on implementation and with experience, certain factors, supported by evidence, may be shown to affect the overall proportionality of the DSD Regulations, either by indicating that amendments are required in order to ensure that the Regulations are capable of being applied proportionately, or by providing further support for or against the inclusion of particular events within the category of Restricted Events’, read an Executive Summary of its Decision.

Transgender females are currently not permitted to use testosterone at levels above 10 nmol/L if they are to be permitted to compete in female sport. Now that World Athletics has got its DSD Rules over the line, they also face the possibility that permissible limits will be reduced, potentially making them ill.

This is why nothing has changed with the SFT ruling. Realistically, I don’t think that anybody expected Caster Semenya to prove that the CAS Decision violates Swiss public policy.

What the SFT decision has highlighted, for athletes, is that appealing such issues through sport’s closed arbitration system is pointless. The CAS allowed the IAAF to amend the DSD Rules before, during, and after its hearing. It held that the Rules are discriminatory and despite this, the IAAF was able to ignore its warning about the inclusion of the 1,500m and one mile events due to lack of evidence without repercussion. The SFT held that none of this qualifies as a threat to Swiss public policy. Case closed.

Kristen Worley was only successful in her appeal that International Olympic Committee (IOC) policies had infringed her human rights by taking her case outside of sport’s closed arbitration system. Claudia Pechstein was only partially successful by taking her case to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), which forced the CAS to open its hearings to the public. This has not gone well so far. 

It would appear that World Athletics doesn’t want to face similar battles to the Semenya case in the future. ‘The decision of the CAS will be final and binding on all parties, and no right of appeal will lie from that decision’, reads Article 5.5 of the DSD Rules. ‘All parties waive irrevocably any right to any form of appeal, review or recourse by or in any court or judicial authority in respect of such decision, insofar as such waiver may be validly made’. Perhaps World Athletics knows that the CAS provides a sensitive ear.

The SFT decision doesn’t bring us any closer to ascertaining whether it is ethical for World Athletics to require 46 XY DSD females to self medicate their natural biology in order to be eligible for certain international female events. Caster Semenya was brought up as a woman, lives as a woman and is legally recognised as a woman, as the DSD Rules require. The action of testosterone on her XY karyotype has provided her with a distinct advantage, but it is an advantage she has had to work on throughout her life, just as other athletes play to their strengths. Is it right to penalise all DSD women for her success?

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