Kobritz: Caster Semenya ruling discriminatory
BEYOND THE LINES
Every world class athlete has certain biological and physical advantages that sets them apart from “normal folks.” As examples, most basketball players are taller than average and most baseball pitchers have large hands.
Trying to equalize competition would lead us down an unending path of rules, restrictions and “categories.” But that didn’t stop the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) from tackling the impossible, in a blatant attempt to slow down Caster Semenya.
Semenya is a South African runner who is a two-time Olympic champion in the 800 meters. She also happens to be hyperandrogenous, meaning her body naturally produces testosterone in amounts that are higher than normally found in females. Scientists say testosterone is the hormone that helps build muscle, endurance and speed, which arguably gives Semenya an unfair advantage over other female competitors in distance events.
The Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) recently gave the IAAF the green light to implement new rules limiting the amount of testosterone a contestant can have if they want to compete in events between 800 meters and one mile. In their 2-1 decision the Court acknowledged the rules are discriminatory, but justified, saying, “such discrimination is a necessary, reasonable and proportionate means of achieving the legitimate objective of ensuring fair competition in female athletics in certain events.”
According to the IAAF, most women have natural testosterone levels of 0.12 to 1.79 nanomoles per liter. A mole, one of the seven international units of measurement, measures quantity. The new rules require Semenya to medically reduce her testosterone number to below five nanomoles per liter.
I’m no scientist, but simple math and common sense suggests that someone with 15 times more testosterone in their system – the difference between the lower and upper “naturally” occurring testosterone levels - would have a greater advantage over their competition than someone with 2.8 times the testosterone level – the difference between the higher naturally occurring level and the new IAAF standard.
Ironically, the IAAF rules require female athletes to take drugs to counteract what nature has given them, while at the same time the organization tests for substances designed to give athletes an “artificial” advantage. In a further irony, the governing body doesn’t require transgender athletes to adhere to the 5-nanomole rule, nor does it impose limits on the testosterone levels of male athletes.
The World Medical Association (WMA) is one of several medical and scientific organizations that criticized the CAS decision. In a sharply worded statement, WMA’s president said, “We have strong reservations about the ethical validity of these regulations. They are based on weak evidence from a single study, which is currently being widely debated by the scientific community.”
The IAAF has plunged into murky waters. While the world continues to grapple with issues of gender identity, track and field is conceited enough to believe it can scientifically determine what it means to be female. Good luck with that.
As sports fans, we cannot cheer the natural biological advantages of some world class athletes, while simultaneously adopting rules that penalize the natural advantages of others.
Jordan Kobritz is a non-practicing attorney and CPA, former Minor League Baseball team owner and current investor in MiLB teams. He is a professor in the Sport Management Department at SUNY Cortland and maintains the blog, sportsbeyondthelines.com. The opinions contained in this column are the author’s. Kobritz can be reached by email at email@example.com.