Baltimore Sun

Fair play hard to define

Rules on intersex, trans athletes will get review

- By Gerald Imray

CAPE TOWN, South Africa — Champion runner Caster Semenya heads into this year’s world championsh­ips with virtually no chance to win.

On Wednesday in Eugene, Oregon, the 31-year-old, three-time world champion at 800 meters will run instead in the 5,000-meter race. She isn’t considered a serious medal contender. It’s the first time since she started dominating her favorite distance well over a decade ago that anybody has said that.

The South African chose to run in a race she doesn’t really want to be in, and one she’s not so good at, because she has declined to submit to rules in track and field that demand she take hormone-reducing treatments if she wants to enter the 800.

They are rules that Semenya, in a statement through her lawyer, calls “an affront to the spirit of the sport.”

Semenya was assigned female at birth, was raised as a girl and identifies as a woman. She has an intersex condition called 46,XY difference­s in sex developmen­t that causes male and female traits and a testostero­ne level higher than the typical female range. She was banned from her best event after losing her appeal of a World Athletics regulation that made women with her condition ineligible for some races.

She is not transgende­r. Still, her case, and those involving others who have similar intersex conditions, carries strong implicatio­ns for how transgende­r athletes are treated and classified.

Semenya’s situation, and the similar plight of 200-meter Olympic silver medalist Christine Mboma, are the most relevant illustrati­ons of how complex track’s rules are regarding the participat­ion of women who have high natural testostero­ne and what some say is an unfair athletic advantage over other women.

For instance, the rules, which will be revisited soon, bar Semenya and others from running distances between 400 meters and 1 mile unless they suppress their testostero­ne. They’re free to run in other events. So, while Mboma has been eligible to run in the 200, Semenya must sit out of the 800.

Mboma is injured this summer and didn’t travel to Eugene. Semenya wasn’t expected to come either, but out of nowhere, her name showed up on the start list for the longer race.

The related but separate issue of transgende­r women in sports again burst into the spotlight last month when internatio­nal leaders in swimming made their own rules change. They banned transgende­r women from elite competitio­ns if they hadn’t begun medical treatment to suppress testostero­ne production before either the onset of puberty or by age 12, whichever comes later.

World Athletics President Sebastian Coe quickly showed his support for swimming’s move and said track’s governing body would review its rules by the end of the year, likely with a view to making them stricter.

“The balance between inclusivit­y and fairness will always, in my view, fall now on the side of fairness,” Coe said on the eve of these worlds, indicating where track might be going when its rule-makers meet in November.

Such a recalibrat­ion of the rules would likely only hurt, not help, Semenya’s cause.

In a rare interview she gave on HBO’s “Real Sports” earlier this year, she said she once told track officials: “‘It’s fine. I’m a female, I don’t care. If you want to see I’m a woman, I will show you my vagina. All right?’ ”

Critics of World Athletics say its recent trend of essentiall­y lumping together the transgende­r and intersex issues is problemati­c. Coe has often used the phrase “biology trumps identity” as a catch-all defense for restrictio­ns in both, breezing over the nuance.

Track’s two rule sets do have crossover in that both, broadly, require athletes to reduce their natural testostero­ne to compete.

While the DSD regulation­s, in place since 2019, have real-life impact on athletes and careers, transgende­r regulation­s don’t at this point because there are no transgende­r women in top-level track and field. Neither are there in swimming.

As much as the decision in swimming, a major catalyst for World Athletics’ move to revisit its rules might have been the arrival of the young Namibian sprinter, Mboma. She won a silver medal in the 200 — a distance at which she remains eligible — at last year’s Tokyo Olympics, her first major meet.

The win came just months after Mboma was forced to switch from the 400 because of high natural testostero­ne.

 ?? AP FILE ?? South African runner Caster Semenya, who was assigned female at birth and identifies as a woman, has an intersex condition that leads to higher testostero­ne levels than the average female. She has been banned from the women’s 800 meters.
AP FILE South African runner Caster Semenya, who was assigned female at birth and identifies as a woman, has an intersex condition that leads to higher testostero­ne levels than the average female. She has been banned from the women’s 800 meters.

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