World Athletics president Sebastian Coe has hailed as “worthwhile” comments by female athletes questioning the apparent lack of research into the effect of the menstrual cycle on performance.
Coe told AFP in an interview in Zurich, host of the Diamond League finals, that he was currently “examining the landscape” to see what research into periods was actually available.
“I have asked our health and science teams to give me the background to whether or not there is research out there,” Coe said.
“And if there is, is it being disseminated properly? Are we really understanding as much as we possibly can?
“Is there a need for us to (carry out research) if there is a delta of understanding, or is that something that we can start doing?”
The issue was brought up at last month’s European championships in Munich when British sprinter Dina Asher-Smith called for more research after her cycle caused her to pull up in the 100m final with calf cramp.
“It is a huge topic for women in sport,” the Briton told BBC at the time, arguing that “if it was a men’s issue we would have a million different ways to combat things”.
“It is something I think more people need to research from a sports science perspective.
“Sometimes you see girls who have been so consistent have a random dip, and behind the scenes they have been really struggling.
“It could do with more funding.”
Asher-Smith’s comments came in the wake of similar comments citing lack of research and of understanding by several leading female tennis and golf players who had complained of adverse effects on performance of period pains.
Coe said that another of his roles, chancellor of Loughborough University in England, he had sought guidance on research.
“We were voted the number one sports university in the world so I’ve also asked all our health and science teams there as to whether there has been research or work done on that,” said Coe, who won two Olympic 1500m golds for Britain at the 1980 and 1984 Games.
Carving out the Taj Mahal
Coe added that he had read with interest a BBC column by distance runner Eilish McColgan, who detailed her ongoing battle with periods and called it “odd to me that it’s still such a taboo subject in 2022”.
The Scot, who won 10,000m silver and 5,000m bronze at the Munich Euros, said she had twice pulled out of competition in her career, both times because of her cycle.
“The only way to describe it is that my legs feel like they have been replaced with concrete blocks. And that a screwdriver is carving out the Taj Mahal around my ovaries,” McColgan said.
“Some months, it’s manageable. Other months, it’s unbearable.”
McColgan added: “It still fascinates me that a large majority of women struggle with their menstrual cycles every month, and yet no one seems to have the answers. Even now, the research in regards to sport, especially, is sparse.
“I presume it would be addressed in far more detail if it affected men – especially our top male athletes.
“Can you imagine how many Premier League footballers would be left on the bench? Curled up into a wee ball, just waiting for the full-time whistle to be blown so they can go home and sleep.”
Coe, who has two daughters, said “Eilish makes a very worthwhile remark” before insisting that the subject was “not a taboo subject in my house”.
He also rued the fact that his father and coach Peter was not around.
An engineer, Peter Coe became a self-taught coach after realising that the training strategies for middle-distance running in the 1960s and early 1970s were flawed, producing then-revolutionary programmes for his son.
“My father also coached female athletes. He coached Wendy Sly to the silver medal in an Olympic Games,” Coe told AFP.
“I would have actually asked him because I know the way that he worked: everything he did was he turned into a science, so he would have actually probably understood as much about that from a practical coaching point of view as anybody.”