Policy a threat to Caster
It could spell the end of her athletics career
SOUTH African superstar Caster Semenya became the third woman in the history of the Commonwealth Games to win double gold after her victory in the 800m yesterday.
Semenya added to her gold in the women’s 1500m earlier in the week to complete a rare feat in middle-distance events. But a new policy on hyperandrogenism (characterised by high testosterone) may spell the end of her illustrious career.
The policy from the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF), which council members approved last month and takes effect in November, is suspiciously selective. It applies only to women who compete in track events between 400m and 1500m.
Weighed against other testosterone-related regulations, the new policy is not only confusing but contradictory. The IAAF’s latest policy stems from a 2017 study it funded.
Researchers found that elite female competitors with higher testosterone “have a significant advantage” over those with lower testosterone in the 400m race (2.7% advantage), 400m hurdles (2.8%), 800m race (1.8%), hammer throw (4.5%) and pole vault (2.9%).
Yet the new guidelines omit both the pole vault and hammer throw, where high-testosterone women ostensibly enjoy the greatest advantage, and add the women’s 1500m race, even though it was not one of the events in which testosterone seemed to matter.
The hormone, the study found, does not affect men in “any of the male events”.
Policies regulating women’s testosterone are part of a long history of athletics authorities trying to establish some definitive marker of “femaleness”. It began in the 1930s, not long after women started competing internationally in track and field.
After sex-testing ultimately proved discriminatory and ineffective, authorities decided to test only women who seemed “suspicious”.
This is apparently what happened to Semenya, who, quite publicly, underwent “gender verification” procedures at the 2009 World Championships.
Although she has never confirmed that she has elevated testosterone, the IAAF’s first policy on hyperandrogenism, published in 2011, appeared to be a direct response to the controversy that surrounded her.
This 2011 policy required any female athlete with “high” levels of functional testosterone (10 or more nano-moles per litre of serum, to be exact), regardless of the event, to either lower those levels or drop out of sport. Indian sprinter Dutee Chand rejected both options. Barred from the 2014 Commonwealth Games on a diagnosis of hyperandrogenism, she challenged her disqualification in the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS).
There, arbitrators ruled that the IAAF had not shown sufficient evidence linking high testosterone to enhanced performance and could not, therefore, enforce its policy on hyperandrogenism. CAS gave the IAAF two years to prove its case. The IAAF scrambled to find enough evidence to dismiss Chand’s case with CAS, which is precisely what the new regulations do.
Underneath all this are questions about whether and how to maintain sex segregation in sport. Since the 1930s, sport has made a mess of sex.
Caster Semenya in action during the women’s 800m final at the Commonwealth Games at Carrara Stadium on the Gold Coast, Australia, yesterday. Semenya won the event, adding to her gold in the 1500m earlier in the week.