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2 May 2019

The Ruling Against Caster Semenya Would Never Apply to Men


I never had any desire to become a sports champion when I was growing up. But what if, when I was 10 years old, I decided it was my dream to become a triathlete.

I wouldn’t know, aged ten, what my body would eventually amount to. 

Now 5 foot 8, but all torso and boobs which attempt to knock me out running down the stairs – let alone jumping hurdles – I’d be at a distinct disadvantage to the women who have longer legs than me, who do not have weapons of mass destruction constricted across their chest night and day. 

My only option would be to work harder, train harder and try to compete at the level of those who are more anatomically suited to the sport, and envy the female who – through no choice of her own – has legs to the sky.

What if, instead of a triathlete, I decided I wanted to become a basketball player? 

This time, being fairly tall for a girl would come at an advantage. Through training and talent, I might reach a regional then national team.

 I walk onto the court during my first match, and there, opposite me, is a female who is six foot three. Clearly, she has a distinct advantage in a sport which is played largely above head level.

Now tell me what the difference is between these two examples, and that of Caster Semenya, who was recently told she’d have to take medication to reduce her levels of testosterone, in order to compete in a sport that she had worked for years and years to be the best at. 

When Caster Semenya decided to become an athlete, she was pre-pubescent, she didn’t know the biological advantage she would have on the other women, she didn’t work any less hard. Semenya could have been a teacher, or a police officer, or a doctor. But instead, she trained and pushed herself and her body, to become an athlete. 

Her testosterone levels are a natural biological advantage, the same as height, the same as long legs, which she had no control over and no knowledge of, when she began to compete.

Usain Bolt’s 195cm (6ft 5) structure is the envy of all runners not blessed by height. Michael Phelps, at 6ft 4, has a 6ft 7 wingspan. Their physical benefits are as clear, and as natural, as the testosterone benefits held by Caster Semenya. 

And yet, it is Semenya who the CAS (Court of Arbitration for Sport) has decided to control. You can’t control height, or wingspan, or leg length. But you can control testosterone, so according to the CAS, we should be controlling it.

But only in women, of course.

This ruling only applies to female athletes. Men with an anomalously high level of testosterone have not been told to humiliatingly reduce the natural status of their body. 

Men, do not have to take performance-altering drugs to ‘level out the playing field’. 

It is only women who are being targeted, controlled, and altered to fit within this box, in the same harrowing, familiar way they have always had to give up the autonomy of their own bodies to others.

If you type in Caster Semenya to Google, you are met by searches such as ‘Caster Semenya intersex’ and ‘Caster Semenya transgender’. 

Caster Semenya is a female by sex and gender, simply born with higher testosterone levels.

The CAS’s justification, is that discrimination against some women is ‘necessary’ to protect other women. 

Not-so-surprisingly, the women it protects is white, cis, female athletes. Black, trans and intersex women are once again targets of regulations which white, cis, female athletes are immune to.

The ruling against Caster Semenya is a ruling against minorities. 

It is a ruling which justifies removing a woman’s agency due to not fitting industry standards. 

It is a ruling against natural advantages which are celebrated in men. 

And it is once again evidence, that women around the world are viewed as controllable pawns in sport, and in life.  

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