Tuesday, May 7, 2019
Castor Semenya is a South African running star. She has won two Olympic medals and continues to win races. After all of this success, the Court of Arbitration for Sport has ruled that because Ms. Semenya has a higher than usual level of testosterone, she could not compete as a woman against women unless she agrees to take testosterone suppressants.
By contrast, Michael Phelps, multi- gold medal winner was at one time described as a biomechanical freak of nature. Among his many natural advantages were double-jointed ankles, an abnormally wide wingspan, an ability to hyperextend his joints, larger than average hands, a torso disproportionately large to his height, and most importantly a body that produces less than half the usual amount of lactic acid which results in his ability to recover from intense exercise within a few minutes. Phelps was considered lucky to have all of these natural advantages.
Which brings us back to sex. The hearing panel was challenged with deciding if Ms. Semnya would be permitted to continue to race despite her natural advantage. Discrimination is recognized to be at the core of the decision, a fact acknowledged by the ruling body. However, as the panel found, the discrimination was necessary to preserve "the integrity of female athletics".
As reported in the Washington Post, "The controversial case had cast a spotlight on issues of women’s rights, fairness in sport and human rights, dividing many in the track and field world. At stake was whether the rule was fair to Semenya, one of the world’s most dominant middle-distance runners and whether allowing Semenya to race with a demonstrative biological advantage was fair to her competitors." Unsaid, of course, is that Ms. Semenya does not conform to what the panel looks for in a woman.