South African runner and Olympic gold medalist Caster Semenya has been told the sport’s governing body can discriminate against her. More to the point, the sport has decided to use shoddy science to determine which women are woman enough to compete against other women.
On Wednesday, the Court of Arbitration in Sport ruled in favor of the International Association of Athletics Federation’s backwards regulations that set a testosterone level upper limit for women who have a difference in sexual development and compete in the Restricted Events. Those include the 400-meter to the 1-mile races -- Semenya runs the 800.
“The Panel found that the DSD Regulations are discriminatory," CAS said in court documents released to the media. "But the majority of the Panel found that, on the basis of the evidence submitted by the parties, such discrimination is a necessary, reasonable and proportionate means of achieving the IAAF’s aim of preserving the integrity of female athletics in the Restricted Events.”
The IAAF has claimed having a higher testosterone level gives Semenya and women with similar testosterone levels an advantage. As if Semenya’s years of training and dedication has absolutely nothing to do with her success. As if Semenya, a woman with DSD, is undeserving of her accolades because she does not fit the western stereotype of what a woman’s body is supposed to look like, down to the cellular level. And as if professional sports aren’t built on genetic advantages -- no one is knocking on reigning WNBA MVP Breanna Stewart’s door asking her not to be 6-foot-4.
The IAAF has been obsessed over Semenya for nearly a decade now. The Eligibility Regulations for Female Classification, released on April 26, 2018, was the last “sex testing” hurdle the governing body threw at Semenya. Since she won gold in the 800-meter race in Berlin in 2009 (at the age of 18), she’s been tested and examined constantly. The problem is, the sport has always been trying to solve an ethical problem with (bad) science when it’s not a problem for science at all.
Most of the evidence presented to the CAS by the IAAF said the difference in testosterone levels allows women with DSD to retain a higher muscle mass, therefore giving an unfair genetic advantage over other women. IAAF researchers, most notably Stéphane Bermon (who’s headed the IAAF’s Medical and Science Department) prior to the 2012 London Olympics, have argued men are faster and stronger than women because of their significantly higher testosterone levels, than those the average woman has.
Bermon’s presentation to the International Olympics Committee was absurd. At one point, he showed two photos side-by-side -- one of bodybuilder and notorious doper, Flex Wheeler, and one of an 18th century portrait of a naked white woman -- to show the contrast between the “normal male and female” body types. He followed his claim by showing another photo of a female body builder, who achieved her muscle mass with synthetic T injections, to prove what an increased T level looks like in comparison to the 18th century woman.
Obviously testosterone is a factor in performance. There’s a reason people take it when they are trying to cheat. That’s not the point, and there’s no point in engaging in the debate on those terms. Testosterone is not what determines whether a person is a man or a woman, and attempting to use it to apply who is and is not qualified to compete against women recasts the entire premise of men’s and women’s sports. We have women’s sports because we value women’s athletic achievements, not because they must compete under an arbitrary testosterone limit in order to succeed.