• bosworth posted an update 7 months, 1 week ago

    Caster Semenya. Just wondering what people’s views are on this?

    My initial view is that it is (rightly) widely accepted that there should be certain categorisations in organised sport – male / female; age; physical disability. That being the case, there does need to be some method of policing this. There are no eyebrows raised when arguments over categorisation of a particular disability arises in the Paralympics – we expect that to be carefully scrutinised. we would not object to someone wanting to compete e.g as a U20, to prove their age. So why would we object to someone wanting to compete as a female to demonstrably fit into that category?

    the difficulty for me is that, having listened on R4 to an expert (albeit one who had been hired by Semenya), testosterone levels are a blunt instrument to say the least for measuring “femininity.”

    • South African athlete Caster Semenya, who has been accused of being ‘too male’ to compete in women’s events, has lost her appeal to the IAA. Her mother said in an interview that ‘my daughter has worked really hard for her success. This decision is a real kick in the bollocks for her’

    • Was that ‘expert’ Ross Tucker!? He loves sticking his oar in, and as a frustrated wannabe pro sportsman his favourite hobby is trying to prove that anyone with any success in endurance sport is doping. I’m not a fan.

      Regarding Semenya I take the same position as you – sport is a ‘fictional framework’ in which people compete and that framework has rules into which you must fit etc. Removing the emotive impact of the terminology; if you have a ‘restricted’ category – ‘female’ – there needs to be rules as to who can enter the restricted category. Self identification is not satisfactory due to the possibility of gaming the system. Semenya doesn’t fit the rules for the restricted category of ‘female’.

      • I didn’t catch his name – he sounded south African. Given that he was “defending” Caster I doubt he was Ross Tucker from your description of his bugbear.

        what he was saying (if I understood it right) is that testosterone in your body does not have the same effect in all individuals.

        So in person X, 20 nanomoles (or whatever it was) of testosterone may equate to superior muscle mass building ability, and / or aerobic endurance

        In person Y however, exactly the same amount may have no such positive effect on athletic ability

        not entirely sure how that helps his argument to be honest, or where to go from there, but there does need to be some way of defining what are the relevant defining features of either sex.

    • it all seems a bit to perfectionist to me and the real danger is that individuals are being segregated and labelled (by them and the authorities) as freaks in all but name for the benefit of pressure groups when all these people want tis to be themselves and compete in sport as themselves.

      I may be old fashioned but I thought the Idea of sport was to bring people together, not put them in ghettos to suit the loud.

    • I think Caster Semenya is a really difficult case because she’s naturally got really high levels of testosterone for a woman but still much lower than a man. It would be different if she was getting the testosterone from medication. We don’t ban basketball players for being way out at the edge of the population distribution in terms of height even though that gives an advantage. So why ban someone who is naturally way out on the edge in terms of testosterone levels.

      The actual problem is that two categories male and female are not enough to deal with intersex athletes. Its analogous to a sport with weight categories and having somebody much heavier/larger than everyone else in the heavyweight category. Making a new category for one person isn’t sensible and she’s closer to the ‘woman’ category than the ‘male’ so the reasonable thing seems to be to say she’s just a very unusual woman and that the elevated testosterone is a fair advantage just like having longer legs or some other characteristic beneficial to running would be.

      If there is going to be action to remove her advantage I don’t think making her take medication to change her natural hormone levels is necessarily the right approach. It might be better to compensate for the ‘advantage’ in a non-medical way which would not have any health side effects, like making her run slightly further.

      • the difficulty is that you are not comparing like with like. we do not have different basketball leagues for small; medium and tall people. so height is not a factor which determines categorisation

        equally, with the weight categories, they would be free to other, heavier weight categories ad inifintum if they so wished – it would still be fair for all competing

        the difficulty with Caster is that they cannot / have not added an extra category to lump all the “super-heavyweights” together

    • One thing that is quite irritating about this ruling is that there is a general consensus that athletes should not be medicating specifically for competition, and yet Semenya is explicitly being told to medicate in order to compete (or retire).

      It does seem (to me) to be unfair to exclude some women from competing in international sport just because they have a natural advantage due to some developmental characteristic. To take that argument to an extreme we could say that women are typically shorter than men, and so any women above 6′ should also be excluded.

    • There have always been people with XXY Chromosomes, both a vagina and penis, gender dysmorphia etc… It’s just that they were hushed up, hidden away and made to feel like they mustn’t talk about how they were different.

      Now we are allowed to open about how we’re made. Some people don’t like it as it confuses them, and they aren’t able to put people in the only pigeonholes that thought existed, but the fact is it’s our understanding of people that have changed, not people themselves.

      • well the Victorians probably put them in freak show travelling circuses and gave them snazzy names…

        I am not entirely convinced the general population views these things a whole lot differently.

        by the way, I am not suggesting there is anything “wrong” with Caster, simply that in the highly competitive and regulated world of elite sport, issues such as categorisation of sexes needs to be considered if the sport is to be fair and a level playing field.

        • Sport isn’t and never will be a level playing field. At the top level in athletics, all of the competitors have some physical traits that allow them to be faster/stronger/fitter etc than other competitors. The majority of the population could never reach their levels even with a lifetime of equally hard work as the top athletes have put in.

          It seems the elevated testosterone gives Semenya an advantage over other athletes. What I struggle with is drawing a line where some traits that provide an advantage are deemed OK while others require athletes to undergo treatment to reduce/remove the advantage.

          I’m not sure what the right answer is but I can’t see a solution that is fair to women like Semenya and also to other women with much lower testosterone levels.

    • she is obviously not female in a way that mist people understand what being female is, just look at her biceps for example.

      We then run into the question of how one defines male and female and the issue is that it’s difficult to come up with an objective measure. Those who think intersex people should be allowed to self identify use this difficulty in objective definition to their advantage by sowing doubt when in fact, we all know deep down that people like Caster are physically different.

      It doesn’t make her any less of a person, just different.

      • I didn’t think that the ruling had questioned whether she is female at all; basically, that isn’t up for debate here. There is a discussion to be had about categorisation of sex/gender and how that is used within sport, but this ruling was made under the current framework and the ruling has therefore said that she is not allowed to have the natural advantage that she does.

        They didn’t ban Miguel Indurain for having abnormally large lungs, or Michael Phelps for having a body that could have been designed for swimming, or any number of other gifted sportspeople for whatever it is that naturally made them so good. Under the way athletics is currently set up, I can’t see any difference which would mean the ruling against Semenya should go the way it has. Tough luck for her competitors, but it’s elite sport, which isn’t a place where you hold back the naturally gifted because it’s deemed unfair.

    • If female “women’s” sport is for individuals assigned female at birth and who identify as female then caster should be allowed to compete.

      If however female sport is for people with testosterone at a certain level then caster shouldn’t be able to compete, and not would potentially many other females depending on where the limit is set…..

      ….But those testosterone rules open the door for male-female trans runners and weightlifters who have the full benefit of male puberty and sometimes years training as an adult male etc. Were it not for a horrific injury last year’s commonwealth gold in the 90+kg women’s category would have gone to a 40 year old male who, I think, only transitioned in her late 30s.

      Sharron Davies has stepped in on both of these recent stories (caster and this powerlifter) to say they shouldn’t be able to compete as it isn’t a level playing field. For what it’s worth I agree with her about the trans person but not about caster.

      Applying the level playing field argument to caster just doesn’t make much sense to me. Sport is inherently unfair; tall people can lank their way past my cruxes, short people dominate gymnastics, there is a dude out there with ridiculously long arms who can deadlift 5xBW, some people grow up with every economic advantage imaginable and a few people have naturally higher test levels.

      Back to Semenya, I see her advantages in the same boat as Bolt’s Achilles, Lemond’s vO2 max or that red faced Nordic skier’s natural EPO production. Sport isn’t a measure of “hard work” as CAS seems to imply, and the playing field is never “level”, and sporting excellence is about who is fastest round the track without using PEDs. Bloody hell what are we going to insist on next…that Barefoot Charles puts his shoes on because his not wearing them gives him an advantage?

      • The danger for athletics is that it goes the same way as cycling, with PEDs being condoned up to a certain level. Caster now has to reduce her testosterone to a certain level; does that mean that other female athletes will be allowed to increase their testosterone to that level, in order to ensure they are on the playing field as defined by the IAAF? dont forget most of the peloton in the tdf are supposedly asthmatic, as the only test is that levels of the asthma drugs they take must be below a certain level, and non asthmatics also benefit from the effects of the drug.

        As others hsve said, this is elite world level sport, and anyone in the olympic final of an athletic event is a performance outlier. They are the best 8 in the world in Semanya’s event. Yes, she’s a genetic exception, but would anyone have heard of michael Jordan if he was 5’10”. Its a dangerous slope the IAAF are heading down.

    • The issue boils down to what it means to be a female, which unfortunately has a different answer depending on the context in question.

      In many situations there’s a lot to be said for self-identification, as it clearly offers major psychological advantages to those whose sex assignment changes or never fitted cleanly into either binary category.

      But in sport that solution has major problems due to the considerable advantage that sometimes may come with being trans or with being inter-sex and competing as a female athlete.

      Trans is, to my mind, an easy one to dismiss, although I can appreciate the argument for it while still disagreeing. It’s inter-sex issues that are the really thorny issue because the nature and scope of inter-sex differences is broad and diverse, including organ, chromosome and testerone-level differences among, I’m sure, many others.

      Allowing all inter-sex people to compete as females makes no more sense than allowing none of them to, since there surely must be many people classed as male who will share some inter-sex characteristics. Potentially this could also lead to significant disillusionment in sport among girls and women for whom their preferred discipline might start to be routinely dominated by inter-sex athletes rather than those who are definitively female in all respects.

      But that leaves the problem of drawing the line somewhere. I doubt that testosterone levels are the best measure, and I doubt that measure will be in place for very long unless it’s also accompanied by other criteria in a more complex formula, but I do think that a rule is needed and that the nature of that rule should be continually revised to optimise the competition fairness to all athletes.

      • I’m not sure there’s so much difference between trans and intersex. A trans person is going to have taken a lot of artificial hormones, maybe for a long time, so they’re going to be as untypically male as they are female (whichever way they transition), much like an intersex person.

        As a monist (in the mind-body sense) I would view trans people as having an intersex condition affecting the brain; and the same with homosexuality – a bit controversial, but logical IMO. Once a trans person has taken a load of hormones I don’t see how they can compete “on a level playing field” with either sex.

        I think the thorny issue is a broad one: like every single other biological category, the boundaries of male and female are blurred. Competitive sport is a context in which the boundary has to be drawn sharply, and doing so is going to be arbitrary by definition and will screw someone over. I don’t have an answer as to whose right to succeed in the thing they’re best at trumps another’s – the best way would seem to me to be that which leaves the least people moaning that it’s unfair: so that would go against many/most intersex and trans athletes.

        So be it. You’ve got to play the hand you were dealt by your genes and environment. If that means you can’t compete in mainstream international sports because you don’t fit sufficiently neatly into the male and female categories that make it work for 99.9% of athletes then maybe that’s just something you have to deal with as part of the hand you were dealt. That’s a massive bummer if you’ve spent your whole life training for that success and you feel you’re entitled to compete in the mainstream, of course. But if we were open about issues of sex and gender and it was well known to these athletes as they grew up that they’d be in a different competitive category, then it wouldn’t be such a problem.

    • She is not “female” by the definition of the the term so if “she” wishes to compete she’ll have to go in the open category with everyone else (the men).

      Ideally you’d not want to separate out any group of people but the fact is humans are in 99.999% of cases divided into two genetic sex’s. And it’s a known fact one of those sexes is at a significant physical disadvantage to the other.

      So we have a choice, you can watch the fastest people on earth race and never see a woman in top level sport again, or you can make a catagory for women to enable the 50% of the population to compete with each other against others with the same genetic disadvantage (XX chromosomes) to see who is the fastest XX human.

      A catagory is a division based on rules and criteria which define what is allowed and what isn’t otherwise anyone can enter and it’s no longer a separate catagory. In this case the rule should be a human which an XX chromosomes.

      If that ends up excluding a tiny handful of people who feel like women but genetically are male or have some unusual mix (XXY and the like) then it is unfortunate for them but I feel is a necessary compromise in order to keep it fair for the vast majority of people who are qualified women.

    • The fundamental thing here is that we have got to get to grips with the fact that nature is not as clever as we thought it was at this binary gender thing. It is the 21st Century and human knowledge is building at a cracking pace that very few can keep up with. Rules from a century ago, or 40 years ago, are worthless in the face of knowledge that hardly anyone even suspected existed back then.

      I was particularly struck by the news report that told of the position of AIS intersex athletes. These athletes have been born, and have developed, as women yet they are XY and have higher than female levels of testosterone. However, the fact that they have been born and developed as women shows that the testosterone is of no use to them (Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome), so they should not be punished for high blood testosterone.

      I expect that 30 or 40 years from now the knowledge base will be even more extensive and the intersex population thus greater and the complexity similarly grown. Hopefully, greater clarity will have emerged for a fair way forward sooner than that.

    • Semenya wins at the same range as other women do which is 10 % less than males in the same events. This shows us that the supposedly massive advantage she is said to have doesn’t transfer on to the times she runs at and that is the only place it matters as far as this ruling goes.

      This makes a mockery of the ruling which is a political decision and nothing to do with the times ran by Semenya and her supposedly huge advantage which doesn’t materialise on the track.

    • Undoubtedly a fascinating and controversial topic, which science may inform but not completely solve. I can happily both support Caster and wish for a fair athletic solution, without knowing what it might be, as I sit here, on the fence (ouch!).

      Ina recent report it is stated that Semenya is an “affected athlete” under IAAF regulations, which list the specific differences of sex development (DSDs) that are of concern to sport. These cases all involve “46, XY” disorders, whereby individuals with one X chromosome and one Y chromosome in each cell (a pattern normally typical of males)…”

      Elsewhere I have not seen this verified and I don’t think it has been referenced as fact in this thread. I don’t know if it is true, but it is stated in the article that Semenya has acknowledged the above condition.

      In the pursuit of some facts, however irrelevant to any ruling on this matter, the all-time records here…

      http://www.alltime-athletics.com/w_800ok.htm 3

      …record that Semenya has 3 of the top 8 legal 800m fastest times for women, and 10 of the top 35, her PB being 4th on the list. The company here is Maria Mutola (remember the epic 2004 Olympic Final won by Dame Kelly Holmes?) the perhaps less well-known Ana Fidelia Quirot and Pamela Jelimo, several different athletes from Eastern Europe competing in the 1970/80s, and a couple of others.

      For comparison, a certain U. Bolt has a better record, but not by much, with 4 of the top 8 (albeit with the 3 quickest) and 13 of the top 34 for the men’s 100m.

      The fastest most recent time apart from Semenya’s is the U.S. record holder Ajee’ Wilson’s 1:55.61, which is 1.2% behind Semenya’s PB of 1:54.25.

      So much for facts.

      Happily straying a little of topic now, in celebration of other stars of Women’s athletics, did you know that Dafne Schippers has the 4th fastest 200m time with only Marion Jones and Flo-Jo (twice) ahead of her? Dina Asha-Smith’s PB is at no. 60, while her season leading time to win in Doha at the weekend posts at no. 463.