Does Caster merit special treatment?

This is what I wrote for The Messenger last year.


Caster Semenya is a brave, determined, admirable athlete. It is irritating and humiliating that her hormonal balance is the subject of so much international scrutiny. Is it wrong, though?

Nobody can take away from her an extraordinary array of achievements, nor her excellence as an athlete.

So, what do we make of the International Association of Athletics Federation (IAAF)? This regulatory body seems to believe that the South African athlete has a hormonal structure which gives her an unfair advantage in races against other female athletes.

The ruling of the IAAF is that female athletes including Semenya, will have to reduce and then maintain their testosterone levels to a certain ceiling if they want to compete in events ranging from 400m to a mile.

Were Caster an accountant, a lawyer, a farmer or (God help her) a journalist, her hormonal structure would be totally irrelevant.

But when you have someone in the fiercely competitive, fraction-of-a-second, watched-by-millions, world of athletics excellence, should the same rules apply?

Let us look at this another way. If you had a Paralympic event which was won by an able-bodied athlete, you would condemn this as cheating.

So how is it different if the other female competitors in a race face a disadvantage because an unusual hormonal mix – caused by nature, not drugs – gives Caster that extra edge?

It is a tricky one, and there is a case to be made for both sides of this argument.

This is not about her appearance, nor her voice, nor her character.    This is about science, not emotion.

It has been reported that MPs have joined the chorus of condemnation against these rules, describing them as “unjust, sexist, dehumanising”.

These rules, however, have not been drawn up with regulating MPs in mind, nor to deal with workplace disputes. They apply only to the athletics track.

Of course, we all bask in the glow of national pride every time any one of our athletes wins a race, wins a medal, breaks a record.

Does this mean we can ignore the concerns inside some sectors of the world of athletics that any female competitor with unusually high levels of certain hormones, has an unusual advantage? Do you ignore this, or do you regulate?

Caster is not being asked to stop competing, but for certain races, she will need to take medical measures to adjust her hormone levels –  if she wishes to enter.

Annoying?  Certainly.   But unjust?  Sexist?

The Australian cricketers were, quite rightly, condemned over the recent ball-tampering incident.

It just wasn’t cricket.  It was unfair.   It was cheating.

The way in which Caster is being treated is harsh, humiliating, hurtful.

When looked at emotionally, it seems so unfair.

But is it?

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