Debate of the Week- Should she be allowed to race?
THE NEWS: A top European court has ruled that star athlete Caster Semenya’s human rights were violated after she was banned from competing in elite events in 2018.
She was only 18 when she first charged across the finish line at the 2009 world track and field championships, winning first place.
But for Olympian Caster Semenya, the track has never been smooth. In 2009, regulators who were sceptical of her pace demanded that Semenya do a test to prove that she was female. The test revealed that Semenya has differences in sex development (DSD), a condition which gives her higher-than-usual testosterone levels.
In 2018, new rules were introduced. Athletes with DSD were only permitted to compete in some track events under the condition that they lowered their testosterone levels. There are lots of possible side effects to this treatment.
But Semenya legally challenged these rules.Her battle with the authorities has been going on for years. In 2021, Semenya filed an appeal with the ECHR. They ruled in her favour this month, agreeing that the competition rules do amount to an infringement of her human rights.
But her battle is not over yet. The ECHR ruled in Semenya’s favour against the Swiss government, and not against the sporting body World Athletics. This means that it will not do anything to change the current restrictions against her.
It is an issue which divides many. On the one hand, sport has always been a balance of hard work and genetic gifts. A tall basketballer will almost always outplay a short one.
But on the other hand, trials have shown that boosting testosterone levels significantly improves the performance of female athletes when all other factors are kept the same.
It is a divisive issue. Such decisions by the global body do not only affect women with DSD and intersex traits, but also female transgender athletes, who some believe should not be allowed to compete in women’s sports. And as of yet, nobody has found a solution that is fair for everybody.
Should she be allowed to race?
Even if Semenya was born with a genetic advantage, so are many athletes who are still allowed to compete. It is inhumane to ask her to take a potentially dangerous hormone-suppressing treatment without medical cause just to allow her to run.
Unfortunately for Semenya, the fact that she was born with DSD means that she does have a measurable advantage against other female competitors. It may not be fair for her, but it would be unfair on other women runners to let her compete against them.
We need to do more research on how raised testosterone levels affect performance in different sports — whether it is comparable to genetic gifts like height, flexibility and cardiac capacity.
Testosterone-The hormone that causes people to develop male sexual characteristics. Women also produce some testosterone. Side effects-Unintended or unwanted results that come alongside the wanted results of an action. ECHR- The European Court of Human Rights. Infringement-An action that breaks a rule or someone’s rights. Divisive- Causing people to be split into groups which disagree with each other. Intersex-People born with both male and female reproductive anatomy.