‘Will it be simpler for you if I stopped winning?’ This is the question Caster Semenya asks in her ‘I was born to do this’ video. The answer – in the gender-binary fixated world of sport – is yes, it seems.
The IAAF has introduced a narrow rule that only applies to women
According to Sport24, the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) wants to limit the natural testosterone levels of female middle-distance runners to a maximum of 5 nanomoles per litre of blood. The IAAF’s new gender rule only applies to women, and only women who run the 400m, 800m and 1 500m races. The Eligibility Regulations for Female Classification of Athletes with Differences of Sexual Development (DSD) is narrow and specific.
No such kind of rule has ever existed for male athletes. This is a rule tailor-made to target Caster Semenya, it seems.
Athletics South Africa and Caster Semenya have challenged this with the Court of Arbitration for Sport. The hearing is to take place in February and the IAAF has delayed the new gender rules until this time. According t0 IOL, the athletics governing body stated that: ‘The IAAF remains very confident of the legal, scientific, and ethical bases for the Regulations, and therefore fully expects the Court of Arbitration for Sport to reject these challenges.’
What this will mean
These new rules are calling for women to change their natural bodies by forcing athletes with hyperandrogenous traits to take testosterone suppressants and alter their physical makeup, so that they can compete as women. Alternatively, they will have to compete with men. According to IOL, ‘the IAAF has also invited any athletes who wish to start on their “suppression period”… to come forward.’ The IAAF’s delay in implementing the ruling is to allow athletes the time for testosterone suppressant treatment to decrease the levels before the World Championship in Athletics in 2019.
Randomly awarded natural competitive advantage, athletic prowess, and physiological talent are usually rewarded in sports, so why has Caster Semenya (and women like her) been singled out? Caster’s existence on the scene is an inconvenience that disrupts the gender binaries the sporting world relies on. And her success in the scene is an even bigger inconvenience.
The Olympian has had her sex tested, her physique interrogated, her gender attacked, her appearance critiqued, and her identity questioned constantly. Now, she is once again being pushed to have her body policed.
According to Runner’s World, the ‘assumption that Caster’s hyperandrogenism gives her an unfair advantage’ is based on a study with flawed data. Caster Semenya could potentially miss the 2019 season, as testosterone levels need to have been below the stipulated level for at least six months prior to competition.
This highlights broader issues such as gender binaries in sport and sexism in sport. It seems some people are so uncomfortable with Semenya that they’ve invented a rule that either bans her from competing in her class, or forces her to alter her body through medication.