Something to Ponder

Caster Semenya

IAAF Double Standards – The Caster Semenya Saga

On Monday 3rd June, South Africa woke up to the exciting news that Caster Semenya the South African gold medallist and world 800M champion had won an interim ruling against the IAAF and now had permission to compete without taking any medications to change her testosterone levels. The ruling by the Swiss supreme federal court gave the Semenya the break she needed to have her appeal to the IAAF ruling heard on June 25. This means that  Semenya can compete in events before then. The court ordered the IAAF to suspend its testosterone regulations for her with immediate effect after she challenged the ruling by the IAAF that she could not compete without taking medication or surgery to reduce the levels of her testosterone. However, the sports governing body is expected to go back to court to challenge the ruling but for now, Semenya can breathe and go on doing what she loves, run.

Following this saga between Caster Semenya and the IAAF has me baffled. The sports body has been after athletes who take drugs to enhance their performance, to the extent they strip some athletes of medals won many years ago if found to have used drugs. We have heard of athletes who try to argue that they were on medication that presented in the urine sample or whatever was tested as a performance enhancing drug. Be that as it may, my beef with the body is, a drug in the body of an athlete is a drug. Whether it is used to enhance or reduce performance, it is a drug. It is therefore ironical to me that they would insist some people use a drug to make them slower while they prosecute those who use drugs to make themselves fast!

Semenya in her argument against the ruling by IAAF has said it is discriminatory and I could not agree more. Not only is it discriminatory, it is also highly hypocritical. There are a number of women athletes who have this condition called hyperandrogenism.  Francine Niyonsaba of Burundi, Margaret Wambui of Kenya, and Indian sprinter Dutee Chand belong to this group. Also known as “differences of sex development” (DSD) the condition is found in women specifically born with the typical male XY chromosome pattern. The athletes also have testosterone levels higher than the typical female range, which the IAAF argues gives them an unfair athletic advantage over other women because the hormone helps build muscle and increases oxygen levels in the blood. 

Since this condition is known and it is naturally occurring in some special women, instead of IAAF trying to play God, why can’t they fix races for those with the condition to compete alone? They have races for the physically challenged, women against women and men against men. Why not have this special class of women run against each other instead of forcing them to take medication or go through surgery they do not want for themselves? Why insist they change who they are just so they can take part in athletics championships? High testosterone levels or not, these women are not winners by luck, they train hard and their hard work pays off. 

Semenya is expected to compete in a 2,000m race next week in Paris and then a 3,000m race at the Prefontaine Classic on 30 June. She may also now decide to have an immediate crack at another 800M and we wish her all the best. We continue to root for Semenya, Niyonsaba, Wambui, Dutee and a host of others whose identities we may not know at this time.  

Here’s hoping the world of athletics and humans in general treat you better, you deserve it!

Lucy Thairu