SPORT: The treatment of Caster Semenya has been shameful… show her some respect and let her run
Caster Semenya suffers from a medical condition called hyperandrogenism
The governing body of world athletics would prefer it if Caster Semenya was not here in London on Monday night denying Laura Muir a medal. At least not the way she is, essentially the way she was born.
They would rather she went away and underwent hormone replacement therapy.
Prhaps even surgery if that is what is required to meet the criteria for competing as a woman.
Semenya has hyperandrogenism, a medical condition characterised by excessive levels of male sex hormones such as testosterone, and the governing body of world athletics are trying to convince the Court of Arbitration for Sport that athletes like her have an unfair advantage.
Their argument is based on a new scientific study which concludes that the condition could provide a 1.8 per cent advantage in an 800 metres race, which equates at the elite female level to a fraction more than two seconds.
It would be more, of course, over 1500m. A good deal more than her minuscule margin of finishing third ahead of Muir.
If you are already feeling uneasy about the morality of telling someone what gender they are based only on their levels of naturally occurring hormones — not to mention giving a woman medication to slow her down — then consider the fact that only last week Semenya, in anticipation of her appearance in these championships in both the 800m and 1500m, had to state in an interview that she ‘pees like a woman’.
Sadly it does not even come close to the most humiliating moment in a career that, prior to Monday night, had already seen her collect two Olympic and two world titles.
When she won her first world title in Berlin in 2009, the then 18-year-old had to endure being called a man by a rival.
While news of the IAAF subjecting her to a gender test once the championships were over was leaked. ‘She is a woman, but maybe not 100 per cent,’ declared Pierre Weiss, the then general secretary of the organisation.
Lynsey Sharp, the British 800m runner who has lost out to Semenya on several occasions, has been extremely vocal on the subject.
And now there will be an outpouring of sympathy for Muir, with few stopping to think how hurtful it is for Semenya to face yet more questions about her gender, as she had to on Monday night.
She responded with great dignity, insisting she ‘has no time for nonsense’ and was ‘not bothered’ whatever the outcome of the IAAF with the CAS.
More admirable than Semenya’s ability in a pair of running spikes is her ability to withstand the cruel, deeply personal scrutiny and keep performing at the highest level when the debate has now been raging for eight years.
The IAAF’s initial introduction of a testosterone policy was suspended by CAS for two years in 2015. Now, however, Lord Coe and his organisation have a new study that was published recently in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.
Stephane Bermon, who led the research from the Monaco Institute of Sports Medicine and Surgery, has confidently declared the issue resolved. ‘Until now there was no proof,’ he said.
There remains a problem, however, with the study when there is a compelling argument for testos-terone levels being treated like any other physical attribute
Roger Pielke Jr, the director of the Sports Governance Centre at the University of Colorado, is about to publish his own paper on the condition.
Speaking to the Evening Standard last week, he said the IAAF’s research paper ‘doesn’t change anything’.
‘Elite athletes by and large are rare biological humans in all sorts of respects, yet the only one we’re trying to regulate is this one,’ he said.
‘I don’t have sympathy for the other athletes. Usain Bolt’s unfair. He has genetics that others don’t. I play basketball against guys that are two metres tall and that’s not fair.’
Pielke is right. Michael Phelps was born with unusually long limbs. Adam Peaty has double-jointed ankles. One could go on.
Paula Radcliffe was blessed with physiology that made her a remarkably quick marathon runner but as a member of the IAAF athletes’ commission she appears to be siding with the governing body.
She accepts it is a ‘delicate issue’ but says ‘the decision has to be made with the human rights of the majority of athletes rather than one person’. Never mind that Semenya’s human rights are being seriously violated.
Semenya is quick. On Monday night she ran like a 1500m novice but comfortably the quickest last 300m saw her snatch the bronze.
Her time of 1min 55.27sec in Monaco last month was the fastest by a woman over 800m for almost a decade. It was, however, two seconds adrift of the world record.
As the New York Times noted, it is worth comparing Semenya’s best to Radcliffe’s world marathon record. The Briton is 10 per cent down on the men, Semenya 12.
Just leave the poor woman alone and let her run.