Thursday, September 1, 2016

Caster Semenya Wins Gold at the Olympics

It has been a long and sometimes humiliating road for Caster Semenya, who won the women's 800-meter race at the 2016 Olympics. That's because Caster is thought to have an intersex condition characterized by ambiguous genitalia and quite possibly high testosterone levels - in other words, she may be a "tweener" in terms of gender. After she won the women's 800 meters race at the 2009 World Games, Caster was subjected to humiliating gender determination - by a committee, no less. Cleared to compete again in 2010, she won a silver medal in the 800 meters race at the 2012 Olympic Games (see this blog Aug. 16, 2012).

In an effort to establish a policy for female athletes that could be applied before competition, not after, in 2011 the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) developed a policy based on testosterone levels. The first test case was a woman named Dutee Chand who was prevented from competing as a woman in 2014 because she had testosterone levels above the limit for females. Ms. Chand appealed the decision to the Court of Arbitration in Sport (CAS), based in Switzerland. In 2015 the CAS ruled in favor of Ms. Chand and suspended the IAAF's policy for two years. The CAS argued that there was insufficient evidence to conclude that women with high testosterone levels benefit from such a performance advantage that they should be excluded from competing as females. The court gave the IAAF two years to provide more persuasive evidence for its policy, if it could.

And that's where we stand today. Based on the CAS ruling, there was no way that a defensible policy defining femaleness for the purpose of athletic competition could have been developed for the 2016 Olympics, and so Caster Semenya was quietly allowed to compete again. In a brief statement, the International Olympic Committee said only that it encourages the IAAF to go back to the CAS "with arguments and evidence to support the reinstatement of it hyperandrogenism rules."

For the record, Caster Semenya has always identified herself as a woman. She wasn't looking for the controversy she caused in 2009, and she wasn't looking for it in 2016. She just wanted to compete. And that, after all, is the spirit of the Olympics.

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