Birds & Bees

Should Caster Semenya, the South African Olympic 800m champion be allowed to compete without testosterone reducing medication? That question is bound to polarise opinion at any gathering of sports people. I understand, but do not agree with, those who believe that a high testosterone count is such a huge advantage that the integrity of woman’s sport would be permanently harmed if women like Semenya are allowed to run in their natural state.

I recently read an article written by a law professor who had also been one of America’s best middle distance runners. She strongly supported the IAAF decision to impose drug doping on Semenya in order to reduce the South African’s testosterone advantage. Unbelievably the American lawyer argued that the principle at stake was the same as Para-Olympic sport. A para athlete wanting to compete in the XY category had to have specified physical injuries. The AA category required a different set of physical problems.

The specifications were put in place to protect the fairness of Para sport. An athlete with two legs and one arm could not compete against an athlete with no legs and one arm. Women, the lawyer argued, were a similarly disadvantaged species that needed rules to protect their inherited weakness; their natural inferiority. They were a special and inferior species that needed protection. The rules Seb Coe was demanding were protecting women’s lowly status.

I am appalled by that argument. Comparing an open species of able human beings, called women, with athletes with a disability is disgusting. Being female is NOT a disability. Being female is not a handicap that needs protecting. Semanya is female with an advantage. She has more testosterone than most. So what? John Walker had inherited advantages. So did Seb Coe. So does every athlete that wins an Olympic Gold Medal. None of them are normal or average. Semenya is not normal or average either. That does not mean she should be banned or forced to take drugs to chemically alter her natural advantages.

It needs to be remembered that Semanya only just manages to beat female runners that Seb Coe would consider “normal”. Semenya’s best time is miles behind the women’s world record and the best times run by several women in the past. If Semenya’s advantage was so beneficial that it justified chemical intervention it is not working all that well.

I wonder what Coe would have thought if the IAAF had demanded he take drugs to slow him down. Not such a good idea then. And yet like many men, take abortion as an example, he is 100% happy to interfere in a woman’s right to control her own body. In this case Coe finds no problem peddling drugs to a black African women. He thinks that’s fine. In Coe’s mind how dare Semanya challenge his male view of what constitutes a normal female athlete.

That control mentality must have frustrated and annoyed women for thousands of years. I never had the problem of course. But I think I know how annoyed I’d be if some London bureaucrat called Lord Coe came to me and said, “I think you run too fast. I think you are too male. Here is a chemical, I have no idea what its side effects will be, but I’m ordering you to take it anyway. It will make you weaker and that’s good.”

Coe is disgusting. “I’m just protecting women’s sport,” he says. But he is not. He’s just another male interfering in a woman’s right to choose.

And I have no idea how some justify the logic of fighting to get drugs out of sport; some who fought for years to stop the Russians, the Chinese, the Americans and the East Germans taking performance enhancing drugs and now support the IAAF imposing a chemical regime on Semenya. Coe has become the IAAF’s Manfred Ewald and some are fine with that because Coe is making women chemically weaker. That terrible Manfred Ewald was making women chemically stronger. We can’t have that, can we? Performance enhancing drugs – bad, performance reducing drugs – good. That logic of that is beyond me.

And so I am delighted that a Swiss Court has put Lord Coe in his place; in a small misogynistic box somewhere in the south of England. The Court has ordered that the Arbitration for Sport’s ruling that Semenya must start a course of hormone therapy must be put on hold. Well done Switzerland. The good guys sometimes do win.

Drug free sport no longer means everyone except Caster Semenya. The goal of drug free sport can again become our ideal.

“The surprise news – which completely blindsided athletics’ governing body – means that the Olympic champion and other DSD athletes can compete in distances ranging from 400m to a mile without medication until at least 25 June.

Semenya’s lawyer, Greg Nott, who hailed the decision as “morally uplifting and so good for Caster”, revealed that his team had asked for the suspension when they appealed the court of arbitration for sport’s ruling in Semenya’s case last week.

“The Swiss court has ordered the IAAF to suspend immediately the implementation of the regulation with regard to Caster and has given the IAAF until the 25 June to respond to the suspense of effect,” said Nott. “It is absolutely positive news.”

Semenya’s Swiss counsel, Dr Dorothee Schramm, also welcomed the decision. “This is an important case that will have fundamental implications for the human rights of female athletes,” she added.

The Swiss ruling will also encourage Semenya’s team that the Swiss federal Supreme Court could set aside the CAS decision in its entirety. They argue that the IAAF’s policy is unfair and unnecessary, and say unwanted hormonal drug interventions could have uncertain health consequences on athletes.

Semenya is supported by the World Medical Association, which has declared the IAAF regulations to be contrary to their basic ethical principles.“

In a short statement Semenya thanked the Swiss judges for their decision. “I hope that following my appeal I will once again be able to run free,” she added.

And so do I, Semenya, so do I.

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