Olympic 800-meter champion Caster Semenya lost her appeal against the Swiss Federal Tribunal (SFT) which will allow the World Athletics organization to ban Semenya from defending her title unless she takes testosterone suppressing medication. The argument that testosterone gives Semenya an unfair advantage is an argument built on inaccurate scientific studies and begs the question, is it fair for all or some? Semenya was born with no advantages than any other hard-training athlete.

Semenya was born with a condition known as hyperandrogenism which causes higher levels of testosterone in biological females. The look into her gender began the day before the 2009 World Athletics Championships in Berlin where Semenya would shatter the 800-meter race reaching the finish line a full 2 seconds before the rest of her opponents.

The World Athletics organization, formerly known as the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF), had forced Semenya to be observed by an endocrinologist, gynecologist and psychologist to determine if Semenya truly was a woman. She was subject to humiliating photos of her genitals and given numerous blood tests without being told what they were for. 

She was allowed to compete the day of the 2009 championships but the final ruling would not come until much later on. The ultimate decision was that Semenya produced too much testosterone — normal being under 10 nanomoles per liter (10 nmol/L) — for a woman and could not compete in anything higher than the 400-meter race unless she took medication to lower her testosterone levels. Simply put, she was too fast for a woman.

“I am very disappointed by this ruling, but refuse to let World Athletics drug me or stop me from being who I am,” said Semenya.

The argument heard over and over again is that high testosterone in women gives them an unfair advantage over women with low to normal testosterone levels, but studies have proven that this is not the case.

Katarina Karkazis, an anthropologist and bioethicist from Stanford University, disagrees with the studies constructed by the World Athletics organization and shows the flaws in their findings.

 “This would be very hard to establish due to the complex set of reactions different individuals have to similar doses of testosterone,” said Karkazis.

The World Athletics organization says the science is there but the fact of the matter is that it is not. The organization says too much testosterone is unfair, so then what is fair? Does a person with longer legs have an advantage over a person with shorter legs? Some will argue no because they are born that way. But yet Semenya, a woman who was born a woman, is now being told she must take medication that will make her more like a woman. The World Athletics organization ignores science and has created their own standard of who falls into the definitive women category.

There is no evidence that taking testosterone suppressing drugs will make competitive running fair among women. Furthermore, this issue raises more questions than there are facts. Questions like, what are the side effects?

According to Scientific American, severe side effects can occur from taking these drugs including electrolyte imbalance which cause irregular heartbeats. Other side effects are excessive thirst and urination.

Olympic athletes train for years prior to the day of competition. They undergo vigorous training and put in numerous amounts of hours at the gym.  If some are required to take these medications and have to deal with the side effects that accompany them then that is a disadvantage itself. The World Athletics organization needs to get more scientific facts before they start banning athletes from competing in their desired fields. 

Semenya will continue to run but is restricted to only competing in the 200-meter race. The SFT ruling did not cause her to waver but has lit a fire no judge could extinguish.

“I will continue to fight for the human rights of female athletes, both on the track and off the track, until we can all run free the way we were born,” said Semenya. “I know what is right and will do all I can to protect basic human rights, for young girls everywhere.”

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.