SA lawyer quits IAAF, slams ‘unethical’ regulations

South African law professor Steve Cornelius has resigned from the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) following the announcement of new testosterone regulations.

Cornelius, who was appointed to the body’s disciplinary tribunal four months ago, said he cannot associate with an entity that “insists on ostracising certain individuals”.

Last week, the IAAF announced new rules would be put in place to ban female athletes from competing in certain events if their testosterone levels exceeded 5 nanomoles (nmol) per litre — which it deems to be unnaturally high. The new regulations would undoubtedly affect Olympic gold medallist Caster Semenya’s ability to compete and is seen by many as a deliberate attempt to hijack her future ambitions.

“The adoption of the new eligibility regulations for female classification is based on the same kind of ideology that has led to some of the worst injustices and atrocities in the history of the planet,” Cornelius wrote in a letter addressed specifically to IAAF president Lord Sebastian Coe.

“How the IAAF Council can, in the 21st Century, when we are meant to be more tolerant and aware of fundamental human rights, even contemplate these kinds of objectionable regulations, is a sad reflection on the fact that the antiquated views of the ‘old’ scandal-hit IAAF, still prevails and that your promises of reform have been empty indeed.”

Cornelius joins a growing chorus of voices that have denounced the rules which will see some athletes forced to take medication to reduce their naturally occurring levels of testosterone if they wish to compete on the international stage. The ANC on Thursday slammed what it views as anti-sport, discriminatory regulations and called on sports fans to defend the dignity of the nation’s athletes.

Minister of Sport and Recreation, Tokozile Xasa, echoed the sentiment, slamming the “targeted approach” as racist, sexist and homophobic. Her department intends to engage President Cyril Ramaphosa, as well as the South African Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee (SASCOC) and Athletics South Africa (ASA), in the coming days to discuss the situation and a potential way forward.

The IAAF is yet to properly clarify the rationale behind its latest decision. The new rules are based on a 2017 study, drawing on data between 2011 and 2013, which found that athletes with higher testosterone levels performed better in certain events — the 400m, 400m hurdles, 800m, pole vault and hammer throw.

The latter two, however, haven’t faced earned new restrictions while the 1500m has. Critics of the new rules claim it is no coincidence the event’s conclusion comes shortly after Semenya won the 1500m gold at the Commonwealth Games last month.

“On deep moral grounds I cannot see myself being part of a system in which I may well be called upon to apply regulations which I deem to be fundamentally flawed,” Cornelius continued in his resignation letter. “It is for these reasons that I have decided to tender my resignation from the IAAF disciplinary committee, effective immediately.”

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Luke Feltham
Luke Feltham

Luke Feltham runs the Mail & Guardian's sports desk. He was previously the online day editor.


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