Sports Zone

World leaders off track with decision to ban honest, worthy competitors

Caster Semenya (above) has inherent physical attributes – similar to Secreteriat and Wilt Chamberlain – that help them outclass their peers. File Photo

”All Olympians have some exceptional traits. That is why they are elite athletes. A level playing field for everyone remains elusive, perhaps unattainable.”
– Jeré Longman, writing in The New York Times, Aug. 18, 2016

Perhaps the best women’s 800-meter runner in the world, Caster Semenya of South Africa, will not compete at the Tokyo Olympics from July 24 through Aug. 9 this year.
Semenya is not injured, has not been defeated by others vying for a spot on the South African team, and has not been excluded for cheating.
World Athletics (the international governing body of track and field) has banned Semenya and any woman athlete with a certain level of testosterone in their body – even if that level occurs naturally.
World Athletics officials have said that high testosterone gives women an unfair advantage over other women runners. Officials acknowledge that Semenya was born with a condition the medical world calls ”hyperandrogenism” (a fine term if ever there was one) that accounts for her having the anatomy of a woman but the hormonal makeup of a man.
World Athletics leaders decided that because of her hyperandrogenism, Semenya, who is well-muscled compared to most women, must reduce her testosterone levels with surgery or by using drugs if she wants to compete on the international stage.
I find this ruling ridiculous!
Because the medical world describes something and assigns a Latin name to it does not make it meaningful or relevant across all facets of life.
Secretariat is the greatest racehorse in history. When he died, an autopsy revealed that he had a far bigger heart than most other horses. World Athletics officials might have described Secretariat as having ”cardiomegaly” (Latin for ”giant heart”) and banned him from racing because of the perceived advantage it gave him.
Wilt Chamberlain once dominated basketball, unlike any human in history. By World Athletics’ logic, Chamberlain would have been excluded from the NBA because he had gigantism. What if an athlete has bigger hands, bigger feet, better eyes: what then?
World Athletics officials believe they are trying to ”level the playing field,” and I take them at their word; I just don’t agree with how they’re doing it.
I believe Semenya was banned because her muscled physique does not fit an arbitrary image of what is feminine. It’s a sad example of appearances outweighing the more essential facts. There is just too much scientific uncertainty about whether heightened testosterone levels account for increased athletic performance. But I’ll go even further: I would let Semenya compete even if it were proven that her naturally occurring heightened testosterone levels helped her win.
Every great athlete has some form of advantage that makes them elite. Semenya was born with her body, developed it to run fast, and became a great runner through discipline and dedication. I think that in life and in sports, we should celebrate the gifts we receive without drawing artificial distinctions about sex by invoking false claims of preserving competitive balance. We should stop hiding our prejudices behind the pursuit of a mythical ”level playing field.”
”God made me the way I am, and I accept myself. I am who I am, and I’m proud of myself,” Semenya has said.
I look forward to your thoughts on this and other topics related to track and field.

Write to me at [email protected].



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