The case of Caster Semenya a South African athlete has opened a debate on whether certain attributes of a female athlete offer them an unfair advantage. It is believed that the athlete has higher testosterone level than her female competitors. The condition that the athlete has is known as hyperandrogenism; a condition where a female athlete has elevated testosterone level (Kuchu, 2015). This aspect has been a problem in the field of athletics that regulating bodies have developed new regulations for female athletes.
IAAF wants female athletes with high testosterone to undergo medical treatment before competing. The purpose is to ensure that female athletes with the condition reduce their testosterone levels to acceptable levels. The debate pointed by the new regulation does not hold grounds since athletes have other advantages over competitors rather than the assumption of hyperandrogenism (Ferguson-Smith & Bavington, 2014). The amount of testosterone levels of female athletes cannot be the reason of their success. Semenya should be able to compete in women’s track and field events despite having higher testosterone level.
Caster Semenya represents South Africa in the middle-distance races. Born in the year 1991, the athlete is a 2016 Olympic gold medalist. She holds many other trophies for the country but her victory in 2009 World Championship was controversial. She was subjected to gender testing after it emerged she might have an advantage over other athletes. Semanya’s sexual identity at birth was female. It came out after her winning that her appearance was more of a male trait. The gender testing investigation’s results were not made public, leaked information show she has an intersex trait (Tinashe, 2017). The testing led to protests from many quarters with arguments of racism and discrimination surfacing. Recent media reports states that she is married to a female.
Do athletes have Advantages why single out Semenya?
A high level of testosterone is not a valid reason for IAAF to ban Semenya from athletic competition. The condition that the athlete has is a natural occurrence and other athletes have in-born advantages. For example, Usain Bolt the 100 meters champion is over 2 meters tall. We have not seen anyone complaining about the athlete despite the fact that he steps further because of huge feet. If Semenya is to be banned, then basketball players who are taller than others should also be banned for the height advantage. Female athletes should be left to compete against each other irrespective of their genetic advantages (Darvin, Pegoraro & Berri, 2018). Athletes such as Semenya who have a high testosterone level are required to test levels of testosterone before competing. Why are other athletes who have certain genetic advantages left to compete and Semenya Banned because of a high testosterone level that occurs naturally?
Hyperandrogenism (testosterone) does not influence the Performance of Athletes
People who want Caster Semenya to be banned from international athletics argue that Heperandrogenism influence performance. However, research studies reveal that the levels of testosterone have no influence on the performance of female athletes. It is true that genetic variations have an impact on the performance of athletes during training and completion. The emerging perception of female athletes with high levels of testosterone has led to discriminatory tests (Kuchu, 2015). Such regulations are not based on scientific evidence thus discriminatory. It is important that IAAF recognize that banning Semanya depending on non-scientific claims is wrong. A research that took place in the year 1996 reveals that the levels of testosterone of female athletes had no impact on their performance.
Banning Semanya is Discriminatory
The argument against Semenya is discriminatory since it concentrates on female athletes alone. The regulating body for athletics developed regulations that cover only female athletes. Does this mean that men athletes do not have advantages over their counterparts? For example, Eero the cross-country skier who dominated the sport during the 1960s had high hemoglobin count and red blood cells. It is also evident that female athletes of color from the south of the globe are the target of most gender testing (IAAF, 2018). This aspect provides an important element of the presence of discrimination based on race and gender. If women do not conform to regulations, they are forced to take suppressing therapy while men do not undergo such measures. There is need for fairness that goes beyond gender.
Caster Semenya should be able to compete in women’s field and track events. The argument against banning the athlete is not based on scientific evidence. The opposing parties to her participation claim that high testosterone levels of the athlete increases her performance. Scientific research contradicts this claim insisting that high testosterone levels have no impact on the performance of female athletes (Ferguson-Smith & Bavington, 2014). The case of Semenya’s banning is important to the sporting fraternity since it points to the presence of discrimination based on gender and race.
The impact of the event points to the growing concern among the public relating to gender and sex. Females receive discrimination across all fields on the globe despite various advances. This shows the need of increasing advocacy against discrimination. If we do not fight for the rights of Semenya what would be the future of females in competitive sports?
Darvin, L., Pegoraro, A., & Berri, D. (2018). Are Men Better Leaders? An Investigation of Head Coaches’ Gender and Individual Players’ Performance in Amateur and Professional Women’s Basketball. Sex Roles, 78(7–8), 455–466. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11199-017-0815-2
Ferguson-Smith, M., & Bavington, L. (2014). Natural Selection for Genetic Variants in Sport: The Role of Y Chromosome Genes in Elite Female Athletes with 46,XY DSD. Sports Medicine, 44(12), 1629–1634.
IAAF. (2018). IAAF Introduces New Eligibility Regulations for Female Clasification. (Press release) https://www.iaaf.org/news/press-release/eligibility-regulations-for-female-classifica
Tinashe, V. (2017). Caster Semenya: My wife thought I was a boy when we met. https://citizen.co.za/lifestyle/your-life-entertainment-your-life/entertainment-celebrities
Kuchu, T. (2015). Too Fast to be a Woman: The Story of Caster Semenya. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f-UX0LE_tCg&t=1704s