Pol­icy a threat to Caster

It could spell the end of her ath­let­ics ca­reer

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - NEWS - WEEK­END AR­GUS RE­PORTER

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.

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