I begin with a warning that there is bad language in this post, because the decision by the Court of Arbitration for Sport in Caster Semenya’s appeal against the IAAF’s new testosterone rule is egregious bullshit.
Let’s begin with the obvious. If they felt that there needed to be a rule change, the IAAF, the governing body for athletics, could have changed the rules without naming the athlete involved. Choosing to name her has led to the intimate medical details of a young woman being published across the world’s media. That’s a pretty shitty thing to do and Caster Semenya is dealing with it with a level of grace under fire that most of us would fail to achieve.
And the rule is obviously targeted at her. The IAAF have made a new testosterone limit that only applies to athletics events of distances from 400 m to 1609 m (1 mile). These are the events in which Semenya races. It does not include shorter distances, where athletes regularly fail drugs test for anabolic steroids, because they’re useful for sprints. But apparently the IAAF doesn’t care about that. It also doesn’t care about introducing these limits to the throwing events in the field, where so many champions have tested positive for anabolic steroids. No, the only events they choose to put this limit on are ones that Semenya might run in. Including the 400 m makes that obvious. Because she doesn’t normally run it, but she has run it. They’ve literally only chosen events she might run in. Because it’s not about fucking fairness, it’s about punishing Semenya for a quirk of her birth.
The IAAF claim they’ve chosen these events because there aren’t enough athletes with DSD in the other events (1). Which pretty much proves they’re lying about why they’re doing it. If it was about protecting female sports, they’d introduce this stupid rule across the board to safeguard those events in the future. But they’ve only introduced it in the one set of events where an athlete with a DSD has been successful. It does suggest that DSDs are not the advantage the IAAF are saying they are. They are not protecting sport, they are punishing Semenya for her successes.
It’s interesting to see what the IAAF choose to regard as an unfair physiological advantage. We’re all mutants. How do you decide what is an unfair advantage, and what is not?
People with advantageous mutations and physical properties are found throughout sport. Murali’s elbow in the cricket, Andy Roddick’s shoulder in tennis, Mia Hamm’s ability to sweat less than anyone else and Michael Phelps’s reduced lactic acid production (2,3).
(section removed by the legal department)
If Caster Semenya was American, there wouldn’t be a rule change, she’d be on Ellen being praised for her bravery.
I want to focus on the different way in which Semenya and Phelps have been treated. Semenya is being hounded for her ability to train harder and to run faster than her competitors. Phelps was lauded for the results he got, because he could train harder and swim faster than his competitors. He was never expected to take lactic acid injections to make him perform like “a normal man”.
Why are some performance advantages alright, and others not?
I don’t have an answer for that, but I would love to know what the IAAF’s answer to the question would be, because as it stands, they have created a very poor rule for reasons that make no sense.
1 – https://www.theguardian.com/sport/2019/apr/30/caster-semenya-runners-discrimination-case
2 – Game On: How the Pressure to Win at All Costs Endangers Youth Sports, and What Parents Can Do About It by Tom Farrey
3 – https://www.smh.com.au/sport/is-it-a-genetic-flaw-that-makes-phelps-the-greatest-20080816-gdsqwk.html