20 March, 2018

Where, once more, I write about hyperandrogenism

As is customary, the IAAF council met during the World Indoor Championships in Birmingham and discussed, among others, the question of hyperandrogenism. I have written on several occasions on the matter and on the unfortunate decision of the Court of Arbitration for Sport to forbid the mandatory hormone treatment for women with high levels of testosterone. The IAAF appealed this decision and recently presented scientific studies which would justify the measures previously proposed.

In the executive summary of the meeting we can read that

Based on the evidence that’s been collected, Council approved a request to revise the competition regulations for track events whose distances range from 400 metres up to and including one mile. Following some further drafting the regulations will be communicated to CAS before being released. It is anticipated that the regulations to go into effect on 1 November 2018.

At the head of IAAF Sir Sebastian Coe states that "This is one of the toughest subjects my Council and I are discussing. This is not about cheating. No hyperandrogenic athlete has cheated". Wait a minute. How can he say this. Obviously no hyperandrogenic athlete has cheated before the compulsory hormone treatment was instituted. But once it was annulled following the CAS decision, the hyperandrogenic athletes competed without treatment knowing that they had an unfair advantage. Given the situation, this was certainly legal but most assuredly not ethical. Calling this "not cheating" is pure hypocrisy or now-a-days politically correct speaking (but I feel that the two are the same). How can Lord Sebastian reconcile the "no-cheating" absolution with his realistic assessment "we have always believed that testosterone, either naturally produced or artificially inserted into the body, provides significant performance advantages".

I have also a problem with the decision of the IAAF council to concentrate on events between 400 m and the mile. Obviously those are the distances where hyperandrogenic females excel (just think Semenya-Niyonsaba-Wambui). And going back just a few years I cannot help thinking that Maria Mutola, 800 m Olympic and World champion, was also hyperandrogenic. 

Her affair with her training partner Kelly Holmes is no secret (and here we have one more common point with Semenya who got married to a woman). But of course one could argue that women who are not hyperandrogenic in the least may be attracted to women and so I will not pursue this argument.

The choice of these middle distances is obviously based on the results of Bermon and Garnier who found that women with high levels of testosterone performed better in 400 m, 400 m hurdles, 800 m, pole vault and hammer throw. They explain the results for the two last disciplines by remarking that females with high levels of androgens may also benefit from improved visuospatial abilities. The one thing that astonishes me is that there does not seem to exist an advantage for sprinters. But the whole business with the Court of Arbitration for Sport and the quashing of the hormone treatment decision was due to the appeal of Dutee Chand an indian hyperandrogenic sprinter. (Admittedly Chand is not a superlative sprinter with just two bronze medals at the Asian Championships). 

But then what about Helen Stephens, the 1936 Berlin Olympics gold medalist, who dominated the 100 m like nobody else, beating even a proven hermaphrodite, Stella Walsh (aka Stanislawa Walasiewicz)? As I wrote in a previous post of mine I am convinced that Stephens was hyperandrogenic. The Wikipedia tactfully points out that Stephens' longtime friend was Mrs. Mabel Robbe (another common point with Semenya).

I cannot resist the temptation to include a photo of Santhi Soundarajan, an indian middle distance runner who was suspended for high levels of testosterone. Well, the photo speaks for itself.

The IAAF hopes to reverse the CAS decision and establish new rules concerning hyperandrogenism before the beginning of the next season. I guess that we'll have to wait and see.

10 March, 2018

Vazel is back

Those who follow my blog have certainly encountered references to the blog of J.P. Vazel, a french athletics expert. His writings have been on more than one occasion a source of inspiration for myself. But in 2016 something happened. Just after the Rio Olympics Vazel stopped blogging. It was a great loss and after some time I lost hope and stopped visiting the blog's site. Then one day, while cleaning some bookmarks on my work's computer I pressed by chance the button to "Plus vite, plus haut, plus fort" and lo and behold there was a new post

It is not really new, since it dates back to the beginning of the year but as I explained I have only yesterday stumbled upon it. I am not even sure whether this is a one-off or whether J.P. Vazel really intends to come back to blogging. Be that as it may, the fact that he published something after the long hiatus is quite encouraging.

If you can read french I encourage you to visit his blog. His most recent article, linked to above, deals with an old theme. Spurred by the fact that in 2017 no new men's world record was registered, for the first time since the creation of the IAAF in 1912, people started thinking whether this signals the end of progress in athletics. Without taking an authoritative position J.P. Vazel points out that this is not the first time people are speaking about the end of records: it is a recurring theme and, in fact, something that goes back all the way to antiquity.

01 March, 2018

The curious sports classification of the IOC

I do not care much about winter sports and thus I do not follow the Winter Olympics. The only disciplines I pay any attention to are figure skating (but these last few years I do not care much even for this) and snowboard cross (which I find great). Be that as it may, I was somehow intrigued when I read that there are only 7 sports contested in this year's Winter Olympics. So I looked closer and I found that the IOC has a somewhat curious classifications of sports.

The competitions which are part of the Olympic Games are in order: sports, disciplines, events, phases and units.

Sports are those governed by international federations. Athletics is obviously a sport. Curiously swimming is not. It is just a discipline part of the sport "aquatics". Finswimming (my discipline) is not a sport either: the IOC recognises "underwater sports" of which finswimming is a discipline. There are 28 Summer Olympic international federation (and 7 more Winter ones) to which one must add 36 more which, while recognised, are not part of the Olympics program.

Disciplines refer to parts of a sport, just like swimming is part of aquatics, together with diving, water polo and artistic swimming (previously known as "synchronised"). Athletics has disciplines also. One can think of the ensemble of track events and that of field events as disciplines but I feel that a better classification of disciplines would be a distinction between stadium and road events. Or perhaps outdoor and indoor. 

Events are competitions which give rise to a medal award. Thus pole vault, decathlon or 4x100 m relay race are events. They give rise to a classification. Events can also be team ones and they do exist in athletics, for instance in cross, albeit not in the olympic program.

Phases are parts of an event. Combined events obviously consist of phases. But the various qualifying rounds, semi-finals and final are also phases of a given event.

Units are the last subdivision. The series of the heptathlon 800 m are units of the 800 m heptathlon phase. The same goes, for instance, for the quarter-finals of some event.

All this looks pretty logical, and it is. So, why am I speaking about a "curious" classification? Well, it has to do with the uppermost level. A sport is tied to an international federation. Suppose that in some remote future the IOC decides to include finswimming in the Summer Olympics program. (I am sure that this is not going to happen during my lifetime). Under the present status finswimming will be a sport. But suppose that FINA, the international swimming federation, wants to control this and gives their assent only provided finswimming comes into the Olympics governed by them. Then finswimming would not be a sport but a discipline, part of aquatics. So at the topmost level the definition of sport becomes purely political. This is what I find somewhat curious.