Sebastian Coe Responds to Our Critique of IAAF Research

Sebastian Coe, IAAF's President, attends a press conference as part of the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) council meeting in Monaco

In an interview with Der Spiegel (auf Deutsche) IAAF president Sebastian Coe is asked directly about our analysis which found significant errors in the IAAF testosterone study that underpins its new regulations. Coe fundamentally misrepresents both our analysis and the results of IAAF research. Athletes deserve better. More after the jump . . .

Here is the relevant excerpt from the recent Der Spiegel interview (translated by me with heavy assist by Google translate, corrections invited by native speakers, with emphasis added).:

Spiegel: The regulated women are supposed to reduce their testosterone levels with medication, for which the IAAF is severely criticized. Human Rights Watch says that the IAAF regulations violate internationally protected human rights, including the rights to private health, health, physical integrity, and non-discrimination.

Coe: I disagree on every point.

Spiegel: How so?

Coe: It is completely misunderstood what we are trying to do here. It is the complete opposite. First, we do not prevent competition, but allow it. Second, we are not committing human rights violations. Thirdly, it is my responsibility and that of the IAAF Council to protect over 90 percent of athletes who deserve fair competition. we have found a way to allow classifications for athletes. That is clear, could not be more unambiguous.

Spiegel: Caster Semnya violates the regulation. In her country, many wonder why the rule should apply only to medium-distance runners. is it a “Lex Semenya”?

Coe: No. There are over 15 years of research in this work, it is scientifically reviewed. It clearly shows that the higher testosterone levels of intersex athletes affect performance, especially at 400, 800 and 1500 meters

Spiegel: The study that you reference has been heavily criticized by renowned researchers, who found 220 errors in the data, why are you sticking with it?

Coe: Alas, they focus on tiny aspect of this research. The discrepancies of the original study were corrected and it was re-published without changing the conclusions. The latest data we use has been reviewed by experts. We knew what we had to do. The case of Dutee Chand is well known. . . .

Spiegel: . . . an Indian sprinter, which successfully fought against a similar iaaf regulation in 2015. Even at that time, the association wanted to move to a hormone-lowering therapy

Coe: The Court of Arbitration for Sport has repealed the original regulation and asked us for specific data. Our research shows that the biggest increases in performance in the 400 meter race to one mile. We thought that could not let things remain. we had to act. Sometimes such decisions are not easy.

My responses:

  1. There is not 15 years of research here. The IAAF regulations are based on one study published in 2017. This is the study in which we have identified serious errors.
  2. The errors are not “tiny.” They are pervasive and fundamentally alter the results of the analysis.
  3. The “republished” IAAF analysis — actually a letter to the journal using very different methods — arrived at significantly different results. It was not peer reviewed.
  4. The IAAF has not shared its data from either study to allow for review by experts.

Our paper which fully documents these points is presently in the peer review process at BJSM. You can read the initially submitted version here. We expect to hear word of its fate any day.

It sure looks like Coe is badly abusing evidence in pursuit of a predetermined agenda of banning certain women for participation in elite athletics. Sports organizations have an obligation to uphold scientific integrity in their work. The sports science community, including leading journals, have an obligation to hold them accountable when they do not.

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