The Final Whistle

    The struggle of Caster Semenya

    More stories from Jon Fortier

    There is no room for discrimination in the 21st century, but that is exactly what is happening to professional track and field athlete, Caster Semenya. The governing body for the International Association of Athletics Federation, put a new rule in place that will limit the amount of testosterone a female athlete can have in their system.

    It all started in 2009 when Semenya took the track world by storm and won the 800 meter at the world championships. Immediately after the race was over, Semenya had to submit to a gender test based mostly on her appearance.

    Semenya, 28, is a South African distance runner who, in addition to her 2009 win, has two Olympic golds in the same event. She was diagnosed with an intersex condition known as hyperandrogenism which means that she produces male sex hormones at a higher level than most females.

    Many, including the IAFF, argue that she has a competitive advantage over other female athletes and should be forced to take treatment to decrease these hormones. The initial rule was passed in 2011 called the Hyperandrogenism Regulations was deemed discriminatory in 2015 by The Court of Arbitration for Sport.

    The CAS ruled that to implement such a regulation, the IAFF had to do research on the subject of hyperandrogenism and would be able to make a new regulation after that.

    In 2018, the IAFF created a new regulation that would limit the permissible testosterone levels for the 400, 800, and 1500 meter events. Incidentally, these are the events that Semenya regularly competes in. The regulation was delayed until the CAS was able to make a new ruling.

    Semenya and her lawyers called the rule “discriminatory, irrational, unjustifiable.”

    On May first, the CAS ruled that  “on the basis of the evidence submitted by the parties, such discrimination is a necessary, reasonable and proportionate means of achieving the IAFF’s aim of preserving the integrity of female athletics in the Restricted Events.”

    This means that in order to compete, Semenya will have to medicate herself in order to bring her testosterone levels down to the standard level amongst all females which is 5 nmol/L and maintain that level for six months prior to a competition.

    There are mixed opinions on the issue. Elisa Cusma, an Italian track star, says that Semenya should not be allowed to run with the rest of the women because in her mind, Semenya is a man, not a woman. Russian track star, Mariya Savinova, echoed these same sentiments and added that Semenya would not be able to pass a drug test by just looking at her.

    While the rule is absolutely discriminatory, the CAS has an argument in their most recent ruling. They want to protect the integrity of the sport and provide a level playing field for all. Track and field is not the only sport that has testosterone limits in their rules. The NFL, NBA, and MLB all have testosterone caps in their rules to keep the playing field level.

    Testosterone is similar to taking human growth hormones. It increases muscle mass, strength and hemoglobin, which can enhance endurance. The main difference between the IAFF rule and the rest of the sports world is that leagues such as the NFL ban the administration of testosterone outside the body. Semenya produces her testosterone naturally and has never once tested positive for banned substances.

    The probability of the new IAFF regulations being overturned is high. Several activist groups and vocal sports celebrities have spoken out against the new regulation, which is causing a public relations nightmare for the IAFF. Both sides of this controversy make convincing arguments and neither are wrong, but neither are right either.

    While it is wrong to discriminate against someone for having a condition that they were born with, it is also wrong to force other female athletes to compete with a major disadvantage. There is not one solution to this problem and it is hard to read between the blurred lines. I feel bad that Semenya is being discriminated against, but I also sympathize with the rest of the athletes that don’t get a fair shot at winning gold.

    Fortier can be reached at [email protected].