Q&A with Athletics SA's sports scientist Ross Tucker

The Court of Arbitration for Sport has ruled that Caster Semenya must reduce her testosterone in order to compete. Sports scientist Ross Tucker was in the Athletics SA medical team supporting her. Chris Barron asked him...

05 May 2019 - 00:00 By Chris Barron

Wasn't the matter of high testosterone and unfair advantage supposed to have been settled after the 2009 drama?
No. The 2010 policy compelling female athletes with high testosterone to lower their levels was set aside. That was challenged in 2014, and in 2015 the CAS (Court of Arbitration for Sport) set it aside pending further evidence. The IAAF now believe they've got their evidence.
Have they?
I don't agree with it.
Their evidence and your evidence are both scientifically based?
So how can there be such different conclusions?
It comes down to whether you value the theory or the evidence. CAS clearly value the theory more than the evidence.
How much evidence is there?
Very little. The IAAF has one major study, which is highly questionable for its policy and conclusions. I don't believe the data is trustworthy and methods robust.
Were your arguments and evidence just ignored?
I honestly don't know. It was in the public domain and was certainly considered by the court. But they obviously decided whatever problems we raised and concerns we had were not valid enough to overturn the policy.
Do you think they'd already made up their mind?The IAAF was unwavering and uncompromising. Whether the court was open to listen to all the arguments and consider them, I don't know. I hope so.Do you think they were swayed by pressure from other athletes?I think that might have been factored into their decision, yes. In 2015, given very similar arguments, the court decided there was insufficient evidence. In my opinion, not much has changed but now they've decided there is enough evidence. One of the things that has changed is that there is now a growing concern about transgender females, men who identify as females and want to compete. The growth of that movement may impact on how one thinks about this issue.But they're completely different?Completely different. And it's been frustrating to see how often they're conflated. People talk about Caster Semenya and then instantly about men competing as women, and that's not the same thing.Are you talking mainly about the court of arbitration?No, I think they were very careful to differentiate.So they understand that her case is entirely different?I think they do. I don't think it was a conscious decision to conflate the two, but whatever shift in wind direction has occurred may have something to do with growing concerns about that.What about negative health effects of the treatment?There is a risk of medical harm. So you have to have some pretty good evidence to base it on. We felt they were way short of it.Would testosterone blockers end her career?She'd slow down significantly. What she's achieved in the last three years would be impossible to sustain.

This article is reserved for Sunday Times subscribers.

A subscription gives you full digital access to all Sunday Times content.

Already subscribed? Simply sign in below.

Registered on the BusinessLIVE, Business Day, Financial Mail or Rand Daily Mail websites? Sign in with the same details.

Questions or problems? Email helpdesk@timeslive.co.za or call 0860 52 52 00.