IFSC to implement policy against relative energy deficiency in sport. IFSC

The International Federation of Sport Climbing (IFSC) has become the first international federation to introduce a comprehensive policy on Relative Energy Deficiency in Sport (REDs) as it implements a new event policy for athletes ahead of the 2024 season.

The IFSC, together with scientific experts, has developed a policy to be implemented at events in which its athletes participate, based on protecting health by avoiding the scourge of REDs. 

This policy has been developed by scientific experts from the IFSC and is based on the findings of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) REDs Consensus Group. The policy aims to improve not only health protection but also the rights of athletes.

This new policy will be implemented from 9 April 2024 in Keqiao, China. It will also be in place for the Paris 2024 Olympic Games and the Olympic Qualification Series.

What does this healthy policy entail?

The policy involves the IFSC working with national federations, athletes and an external commission of independent experts in the field of REDs. REDs have the complexity of not being detectable by a single test or screening method, and therefore a more comprehensive screening process is required to ensure an accurate picture of an athlete's health. 

This will be led by the IFSC Medical Commission, chaired by Professor Naama Constantini, who is also part of the IOC REDs Expert Consensus Group.

Aniya Holder and Joshua Bruyns have won a ticket to Paris 2024, placing first in the women’s and men’s Speed finals at the IFSC African Qualifier. IFSC
Aniya Holder and Joshua Bruyns have won a ticket to Paris 2024, placing first in the women’s and men’s Speed finals at the IFSC African Qualifier. IFSC

The IFSC REDs policy requires that:

Athletes to complete two short questionnaires to collect personal parameters for criteria such as height, weight, heart rate and blood pressure. National Federations to issue each athlete with a health certificate or request further testing before providing "authorisation" to the IFSC. 

The IFSC will initiate random and targeted testing of parameters (including BMI, heart rate and blood pressure) throughout the climbing season. The IFSC will also store the information provided by the National Federations. An external commission will verify the data of suspected cases by comparing the data collected with the health certificates of the National Federation.

The expected and healthy action of the IFSC comes after several controversies in the past, with athletes demanding more concrete measures to protect their health. FSC President Marcos Scolaris said: "The new system underlines our commitment to the health of our athletes. The policy will not only help us to identify those athletes who are most at risk, but it will also help to raise awareness of the issue, provide assistance to those in need and ensure that the rights of every athlete are protected".

He also made no secret of the need for the cooperation of the various national federations, which he believes is essential to the success of the measures being implemented: "National Federations are key to the success of the new policy as they are responsible for the health and welfare of athletes at a national level. We look forward to working closely with them on this issue.

What is REDs?

REDs is a syndrome that affects health and performance. It is caused by an imbalance between calories consumed and calories burned during exercise. It can lead to many short and long-term health and performance problems. 

While the true prevalence of REDs varies from sport to sport, the IOC REDs Consensus Group found that "the syndrome is often unrecognised by the athletes themselves, their coaches and team physicians, and may be inadvertently exacerbated by 'sports culture' due to the perceived short-term performance gains from limiting caloric intake". 

"There have been calls for the use of Body Mass Index (BMI) as a measure for REDs, but a simple BMI test alone does not provide an accurate picture of an individual's health and, more importantly, would not be legally defensible," said IFSC Director General Piero Rebaudengo. 

"BMI varies widely from one country to country. Excluding athletes from competition solely on the basis of their BMI would therefore be a gross violation of their rights," the Director concluded, explaining the IFSC's position.

On this basis, the IFSC set out to develop a more comprehensive policy on REDs testing that would protect both the health of athletes and their human rights.

"The health, welfare and safety of athletes has always been and will remain a priority for the Athletes' Commission. The policy announced today is the start of a journey to make our sport safer by addressing a complex and sensitive issue," said British Olympic athlete Shauna Coxsey.