SA professor praised for quitting IAAF disciplinary tribunal over ‘warped ideology’

Sebastian Coe, president of the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF), speaks during the presentation of the IAAF World Half Marathon Championships in Spain, 23 March 2018. EPA/MANUEL BRUQUE

South African law professor Steve Cornelius has resigned from the IAAF disciplinary tribunal following the introduction of rules that will force some women to undergo testosterone-reducing treatment or face bans.


Professor Steve Cornelius resigned from the International Association of Athletics Federations’ Disciplinary Tribunal this week over the governing body’s newly introduced policy that seeks to “regulate” naturally elevated levels of testosterone in women competing in select events.

Cornelius confirmed his resignation toDaily Maverick on Monday night after his letter to the IAAF was widely circulated on social media this week. He has been widely praised for taking a principled stance.

“I’ve been overwhelmed and humbled by the response,” Cornelius told Daily Maverick.

“I felt the regulations that they passed are severely flawed in a number of ways. That was my main motivation. From a legal and ethical point of view, I cannot adjudicate on such regulations,” he said.

“Having grown up in SA during apartheid times, we see what happens when people keep quiet.”

The regulations are the latest in a saga which dates back to 2009, when the IAAF first tried to attempt to regulate women’s testosterone levels. Cornelius said that he thought the IAAF had “moved on from there” and that he was a heavy critic of the previous regulations, too.

The regulations and the question of “protecting women’s sport” is a hotly debated topic, but for Cornelius the solution is simple.

“Most sports take the approach that if you are legally a woman and you identify as a woman, you participate in women’s sport.”

He says the notion that this could give rise to men masquerading as women is unlikely – not once in the history of the sport has an imposter been found.

South Africa’s Caster Semenya has been the most high profile athlete likely to be affected, leading many to feel it is a targeted attack on her.

Cornelius says that while he tries to steer away from that discussion and focus on how it affects women’s sport, he points to the fact that the new regulations are being inconsistently and arbitrarily applied, making it “difficult to avoid the conclusion that it’s not at least in part directed at her”.

“There’s a lot of dishonesty in this whole thing. It’s also strange that the regulations will apply internationally but not locally. So an athlete can break a record but not be at the World Championships.. The whole thing is ill-conceived,” he said.

Athletics Canada also issued a strong response on Monday saying that they have “serious concerns” over the regulations.

“In Canada, we encourage the full access for all Canadians to participate and compete in athletics and every level of our sport, free of discrimination,” it said in a statement.

Cornelius had an equally strong response. In his resignation letter, addressed to IAAF President Sebastian Coe, Cornelius said that he does not want to associate with an organisation which “insists on ostracising certain individuals, all of them female, for no other reason than being what they were born to be”.

Cornelius slammed the new policy as being “based on the same kind of ideology that has led to some of the worst injustices in the history of our planet”.

He said the IAAF’s promises of reform have been “empty” and that he cannot be part of a system where he may be called upon to apply regulations which he deems to be “fundamentally flawed and most likely unlawful in various jurisdictions”.

Cornelius was elected to the panel last year, following the establishment of the tribunal in April 2017.

The tribunal was introduced as part of a so-called “reform” process of the IAAF in response to various scandals that have plagued the organisation over the years – largely relating to doping.

Its role, among other things, is to hear and determine all breaches of the Integrity Code of Conduct in accordance with the Rules and Regulations.

The IAAF’s newly introduced policy has been widely criticised and is expected to be challenged in the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) – as has happened before.

Various government arms in South Africa have slammed the regulations with the ANC calling them “blatantly racist”. The country’s Presiding Officers of Parliament issued a statement on Sunday saying the regulations should be “rejected with the contempt it deserves”. The statement called on ” international legislative bodies such as the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association and the Inter-Parliamentary Union to take a stand and reject the IAAF’s blatant old-fashioned prejudice, which has no scientific foundation. The international athletics body’s actions are an open violation of human rights principles enunciated in the founding documents of the United Nations and, if not rejected, will continue systematically destroying individual athletes with impunity and bringing the entire global sports into disrepute.”

The IAAF, meanwhile, has staunchly defended the laws saying they are “neither sexist nor racist”.

“As world governing body we need to ensure a level playing field for all athletes. The research and evidence clearly show there is a performance advantage in female athletes with Disorders of Sex Development (DSD) over the track distances covered by this rule,” the IAAF said. DM


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