The judgement of the Swiss Federal Tribunal, which this week rejected Caster Semenya’s appeal against the ruling of sports’ highest court, the Court of Arbitration for Sport, CAS, on her further eligibility to run in the 400 and 800 metres races, is a just decision that should be hailed by all. Semenya’s lawyers themselves announced the judgement in a statement on Tuesday.
According to them, the tribunal found the requirement of subjecting certain female athletes to drug or surgical interventions as a precondition to compete does not amount to a violation of Swiss public policy. CAS had ruled earlier that “the regulations of the sport’s governing body World Athletics were necessary for athletes with differences in sexual development (DSDs) in races ranging from 400 metres to a mile to ensure fair competition.”
Caster Semenya is again in the news on account of her sexual stature in relationship to her athletics career. She was born with intersex traits that make her body to naturally produce testosterone at levels much higher than most women.
That a person is born with intersex issues is not a problem. What is the problem is when that person gains some decisive advantage in any human endeavour with it. It becomes serious when it happens in sports.
There is no doubt in my mind that Semenya derives advantage over other competitors with her intersex condition. Just watch any of her races, particularly the 800 metres. The ease with which she glides to victory and the gap with which she leads others are simply unnatural for a female athlete.
While others are huffing and puffing, she just coasts home to victory without much effort. One even feels that she deliberately cuts her speed to give some semblance of respectability to the result. It always seems that she has more energy to go faster and longer. Her superiority over the other competitors is too self evident.
I have always wondered at the science that classifies a human being with preponderantly male features as female on account of some weird biological measurements. We must therefore interrogate the whole issue of testosterone to have a fair idea of how Semenya enjoys undue advantage over other competitors.
Wikipedia classifies testosterone as the primary male sex hormone and an anabolic steroid which plays a key role in the development of male reproductive tissues such as testes and prostate and the promotion of secondary sexual characteristics such as increased muscle and bone mass, and the growth of body hair.
The anabolic effects include growth of muscle mass and strength, increased bone density and strength, and stimulation of linear growth and bone maturation. Athletes use it illicitly to enhance physique and performance. The levels of testosterone in average adult males are about seven to eight times as great as in adult females.
This is where Semenya’s problem lies as she produces testosterone at levels much higher than most women. And the International Association of Athletics Federations, IAAF, is no longer comfortable with this.
The body issued new guidelines in April 2018 to the effect that intersex athletes with high levels of testosterone must take medications to reduce them to qualify to run as females or enter men’s events if they are not willing to scale down.
Semenya challenged the new guidelines at the Court of Arbitration for Sport, CAS on the grounds that they were specifically targeted at her and they breached her rights. On May 1 last year, CAS ruled against her, effectively shutting her out of women races. Goaded by an indignant South African establishment, she appealed to the highest court in Switzerland, the Swiss Federal Tribunal.
The court temporarily lifted the regulations until June 25, 2019 allowing her to return to the tracks for a period, but reinstated them in August 2019. It is difficult to fault the ruling: “Neither the allegation of an infringement of the principle of non-discrimination, nor the alleged violation of ‘ordre public’ due to an infringement of their personality and human dignity appears with high probability to be well founded.
” The latest judgement has strengthened the hand of the athletics governing body. However, Semenya seems not pleased with the tribunal’s latest judgement as she is reportedly desirous of approaching the European and domestic courts ahead of the Olympics in Tokyo next year.
No less a person than Usain Bolt, perhaps athletics’ greatest icon, weighed in on the matter last year, asking Semenya to accept the IAAF regulations. He admonished the South African athlete, “I heard about her story without following it very closely.
For me it’s just the rules. I don’t make the rules but I enforce them…When there is rule I never discuss it, I just bend over and move on.” Semenya and her minders will do well to follow this sound counsel.
The athletes competing against her may not voice it out but their body language in every race speaks volumes. The IAAF is only hearkening to the voice of reason and doing justice that ought to have been done a long time ago.
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