The World Athletics president, Sebastian Coe, has defended the sport’s controversial testosterone rules, saying that 18-year-old Christine Mboma’s late surge to win a surprise 200m silver medal suggests that they are vindicated.
The Namibian powered home late to finish in 21.81sec – the fastest time ever by someone under 20. And when Lord Coe was asked whether the youngster could break Florence Griffith Joyner’s world record he replied: “I think it’s possible,” adding that this “probably” would then give the governing body more questions to contend with where the rules are concerned.
However Mboma and her compatriot Beatrice Masilingi, who finished sixth in the same race, are actually better over 400m, where they hold three of the top seven fastest times in the world this year. They are not allowed to run that distance, though, as women with so-called differences of sex development (DSDs) and naturally higher levels of testosterone are banned from competing internationally between 400m and a mile, unless they have taken medication to lower their testosterone to 5 nmol/L.
World Athletics argues that its rules are justified because the vast majority of females have around 0.12-1.79 nmol/L of testosterone in their bodies – while those with a DSD are in the male range of 7.7-29.4 nmol/L. However the rules have sharply divided opinion, with the double 800m Olympic champion Caster Semenya still fighting to have them overturned.
On Mboma’s performance, Coe added: “It was pretty observable that the last 30m or 40m of the 200m were impactful. And, actually, I think that vindicated the decision about the 400m. If you are finishing a 200m like that, you extend the runway. That in a way supports the judgment that was made.”
He continued: “Was it right to do what we did at the distances? Yes, and I think the 800m yesterday was a very good example of that. It says a lot about some of the policies we have adopted that we have that kind of race, and people like Athing Mu and Keely Hodgkinson coming through.”
Coe did not rule out the possibility of looking at the DSD rules governing other distances: “My responsibility, as uncomfortable as it is, is always to do whatever I can to maintain the integrity of competition and that level playing field. We’ve never said that there may not be advantages at lower levels elsewhere.”
Coe also suggested that different classifications might yet come into sport in the future – including an “open” category for almost everyone and a restricted “biological female”. “I don’t think that’s where most of my council are at the moment,” he said. “But this is a debate at the moment. I’ve heard coaches and people who are interested in the sport, and more broadly from the sport, have discussed that.”