Caster Semenya’s struggle to compete

Joey Glos, Staff Writer

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A world-class track and field runner who has won two gold Olympic medals was threatened with not being able to run anymore. The reason is not injury or a drug scandal. The issue is with the runner’s unchangeable biology. Specifically, we are talking about the female track and field athlete under the name Caster Semenya. Who is Caster Semenya? Semenya is a South African athlete who has trained and worked hard to reach the level she is at today. She is an Olympic gold medalist in the 800m sprint. However,she is also the source of widespread controversy, particularly surrounding her higher than normal testosterone levels. Semenya’s testosterone levels are higher than average for a female, which resulted in the International Association of Athletics Federation (IAAF), a governing body for track and field, enforcing of rules to take hormone blockers or be completely banned from competing.

Funnily enough, the same restrictions are not being pushed for male athletes. No one is saying we should limit the height of basketball players lest it provide an unfair advantage, or that we enact restrictions on the level of testosterone in men’s sports– that would of course be preposterous. After all, that would require something insane and dangerous like the use of hormone blocking drugs to adjust peoples natural hormone balance. It may sound crazy, but it is exactly what the IAAF is doing to restrict Semenya. So why? Why does the IAAF push these regulations on women’s sports instead of men. Why are women forced to take medication to limit and control their natural bodies when men get a free pass?

The official stance of the IAAF is that these restrictions are designed to present as level a playing field as possible. They argue that Semenya’s testosterone levels mean that she has an unfair advantage over her competitors. This is partly true. Testosterone is the male sex hormone, although it is not exclusive to males, and it helps in building muscle mass. To put it simply, Semenya’s testosterone may give her an advantage. However, the true point of these regulations is not to make competition more fair, it is instead to enforce an agenda of traditional femininity. If the IAAF was truly interested in making track and field equal, why are the same restrictions not placed on men’s sports? For example, world class male sprinters such as Usain Bolt have a higher number of fast twitch muscles then slow twitch muscles. This imbalance leads to his body being more suited for fast short-distance running. This imbalance is also genetic and can not be controlled, just like Semenya’s testosterone levels. Despite this natural advantage, no one is saying we should limit him. Nor should he be limited; he is an amazing athlete who has capitalized on his advantages with hard work and training. The same can be said of Semenya. She would not be the sprinter she is today if it weren’t for her hard work and dedication.

The IAAF’s restrictions are not to help other athletes, but instead to enforce traditional gender roles and to put down and shame women like Semenya who do not fit the view of traditional femininity. It is an attempt to regain a semblance of control over women in a age where traditional gender roles are being challenged. Our view of gender has become more fluid and diverse in these past years. The IAAF’s restrictions are an archaic and sexist attempt to neatly define gender in an age where that definition is not clear-cut. Though many debates have arisen in the sports world recently about the place of transgender athletes, Semenya is not a transgender athlete. She is a female athlete, and there should not be a debate about whether or not a female athlete should be allowed to compete in female events. The answer is not to restrict her, not to put her on hormone blockers and not to limit the events she can run in. The solution is to let her run.