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posted 7 May 2019, 07:32 by Gerry Kangalee   [ updated 7 May 2019, 07:49 ]
Caster Semenya
The Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) has thrown out an appeal by double Olympic 800m female gold medallist Caster Semenya of South Africa against a ruling by the International Association of Athletic Federations/IAAF.

Track and field's governing body had ruled that it could restrict/determine the acceptable levels of testosterone in women athletes. This would apply to women who showed 'differences of sexual development/D.S.D.'. The ruling is a split decision and has ignited a fury that will continue to resonate across cultural and especially racial lines. Even before the Court's decision, human rights groups and the United Nations weighed in on the matter, calling it discriminatory and a violation of human rights.

Hyperandrogenic athletes must now take medication for six months before they can compete and then must maintain a lower level of testosterone. How this procedure is to be applied, by whom and under what conditions has not been spelt out. Given individual physiological and psychological profiles, given how each individual responds to therapy, it is clear that further problems are going to arise.

The Court itself recognized it could not give a concise, water tight verdict. CAS found that ''the rules for athletes with DSD were discriminatory but discrimination was necessary, reasonable and proportionate to protect the integrity of female athletes''. The judgement stated further "The side effects of hormonal treatment experienced by individual athletes could with further evidence, demonstrate the practical impossibility of compliance which could turn into a different conclusion as to the proportionality of the DSD regulation.”

Just imagine in any other court of a law, such a verdict being pronounced. Discrimination is ''necessary, reasonable and proportionate'' to protect integrity. But then the United States Constitution said that the Negro is 3/5 of a man.

Those of us who follow athletics and long distance running in particular, know that middle and long distance running is dominated by African athletes at home and abroad. Go look at any event in the Diamond League, Worlds or Olympics, especially 5000m and up. One notices that midway in the event the field spreads out and the Africans, be they Kenyan, Ethiopian, Moroccan, Somalian have moved to the front with the Europeans left behind. Even England's Mo Farah, 4 time Olympic gold medallist at 5000m and 10000m, is Somali born.

At the Rio Olympics, Lynsey Sharpe one of Britain's strongest medal hopes, finished 6th trailing the 1/2/3 of African women, led by Semenya. She broke down and protested after the event, suggesting she had not been beaten by fully female athletes. Paula Radcliffe, a British perennial also ran at the Olympics, has suggested that hyperandrogenic athletes take medication “... have an operation...or choose not to compete''.

One now wonders if the next group in the sights would be the power events such as javelin, shot and discus. At the moment this area is dominated by Asian and European/American women. It used to be owned by the Hungarian and Russian women. Those were the days before coaches and trainers developed techniques which allowed less powerfully built athletes to become competitive. When West Indian cricket ruled the world, there came the 'front foot rule' and limits on the number of bouncers per over.

Dutee Chand
It is worth noting that Duttee Chand, a then 19 year old Indian sprinter and national champion, was the first female athlete to have to face this type of challenge. She won her case but 'felt as if I had lost all my honour, having to prove that I am a woman'

The reality is that the traditional European power houses in many sports have lost their domination. The 'invasion' has occurred in all sports from gymnastics to golf, from soccer to boxing, led by Africans in most cases. Even the lily white domains such as golf and Formula 1 motor racing are dominated by "Black' superstars, Tiger Woods and Lewis Hamilton Sport is now global and perennial and through the federations, athletes from all countries have opportunities to compete and excel. Many are in fact not based at home or fly the flag of adopted homelands.

What next? This clearly goes beyond the stadia, to paraphrase CLR James, and is going to resonate for a long time, given that this is seen as aimed at the 'third world ' athletes. We will see how the ruling is implemented and measured. If the present processes to fight drug abuse are to be a guide we are in for something of a mess. We can only wait and see.