The International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) made the controversial announcement that as of November, female athletes with hyperandrogenism will be given a harsh ultimatum: either take hormone-regulating medication to reduce their testosterone, or compete with men in Olympic events. Failure to do so may result in elimination from major racing events. The IAAF has put this new rule in place under the guise of creating fair competition for all athletes, but it seems to be more of a ploy to dethrone South Africa’s golden girl, Caster Semenya, who just recently broke Zola Budd’s 34-year record.
The IAAF’s justification for their decision is stated as follows: ‘[We] divide competition into male and female classifications because male athletes have clear performance advantages in terms of size, strength and power, as a result (in particular) of increased lean body mass and increased serum haemoglobin, which in turn is due mainly to the fact that, starting from puberty, they produce 10‐30 times more testosterone than women … this difference justifies protecting female athletes from competition from male athletes.’
The 27-year-old 800m world champion may not be a stranger to gender discrimination, but that does not mean she has to constantly endure it as part and parcel of her athletic career. Ever since she made international headlines in 2009, her gender has been poked and prodded at by media, and she was forced to undergo multiple tests to verify that she is, in fact, a woman. Following multiple invasions of privacy from fellow competitors, humiliating makeovers, and leaked test results, Caster is now the subject of a documentary titled Too fast to be a woman: The story of Caster Semenya, which shares her embattled journey to superstardom.
Nine years later and the Olympic gold medalist still can’t catch a break, as the IAAF tries to compromise her winning streak on the basis that her testosterone levels give her an unfair advantage over other female athletes – a new rule most likely premised on inconclusive 2014 findings that ‘female athletes with heightened testosterone may be at an advantage of between 1.8% to 4.5% in certain competitions.’ According to a sports scientist quoted by The Guardian, hormone reduction might slow Caster down by up to seven seconds.
South Africans have not taken this news lightly since it broke, calling out the IAAF’s sexism and expressing their unwavering support for Caster:
The #CasterSemenya situation is like telling the smart kid in class to stop getting 95% but to perform average so the rest can feel included
— Thanos Snapping Fingers (@AlmightySiz) April 26, 2018
The #IAAF is being being sexist, racist and certainly living in the 16th Century
This extraordinary talented Lady was born this way
You are asking her to take drugs to change her performance, exactly what you ban Athletes for….
Leave #CasterSemenya alone
— Jonathan Levin (@Gawiesnr) April 26, 2018
Black woman you are a threat. If they don’t vilify you and tarnish your image, they create laws to stop your greatness. What a threat you must be and how powerful you are. #CasterSemenya still you rise pic.twitter.com/xW7r4E0aIb
— Lebohang Nkutha (@Lebo_Felicity) April 26, 2018
I consider high testosterone levels for a female athlete a genetic gift/advantage in the same way height is a genetic gift/advantage for a basketball player. #CasterSemenya
— Papi Gonzalez (@Akio_Kawahito) April 26, 2018
Ill tweet this again, Michael Felb has abnormal feets that gives him better advantage when swimming. He was born like that. The swimming body didn’t change it policy and told him to take drugs to reduce his speed to accommodate the other swimmers.#CasterSemenya must sue #IAAF
— Not Adv Ngcukaitobi (@AdvNgcukaitobi) April 26, 2018
Why is it that whenever powerful women, particularly powerful African women, are excelling and rising above the rest there are always things like IAAF trying to put a stop. It’s an outright violation! #IAAF #CasterSemenya
— Ulrich Janse van Vuuren (@UlrichJvV) April 26, 2018
The criticism and gross speculation around Caster Semenya’s gender have never slowed her down, as she continues to collect accolades with her head held high:
Athletics officials have made multiple attempts over the last decade to stop Caster Semenya from running. This has been her response pic.twitter.com/nS79Z3GUpf
— Wesley Botton (@wesbotton) April 25, 2018
Caster has not made an official statement about the new rule effective as of November, but in true Caster spirit, one of her most recent tweets serves as the most perfect response to the IAAF:
— Caster Semenya (@caster800m) April 25, 2018