Swimmer extraordinaire, Michael Phelps, is noted for his proportionally longer wingspan, double-jointed ankles and the fact that he produces considerably less lactic acid than his competitors. No one has, however, made attempts at preventing him from swimming.
Likewise, Boban Marjanovic, who is said to be the tallest player in the NBA and, therefore, at an advantageous position than his peers, has not been stopped from playing basketball.
There is also the retired Sumo wrestler Orora Satoshi, who was never forced to lose weight to compete despite being his sport’s heaviest professional ever, as well as, the controversial 800m record holder, Jarmila Kratochvílová.
However, Caster Semenya, the South African middle-distance runner and two-time 800m Olympic champion may no longer be allowed to compete in her present state due to her rare genetic traits.
The Court of Arbitration in Sport (CAS), on Wednesday, agreed with the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) that Semenya’s natural testosterone is too high for her to compete with women.
The 28-year-old Olympian, who was born with intersex traits, had challenged the IAAF – the governing body of world athletics –over its decision to restrict testosterone levels in female runners for distances between 400m and a mile.
But per the new ruling, the middle-distance runner would have to take testosterone suppressants if she wants to compete in such shorter events.
According to Yahoo Sports, “the IAAF is now free to require Semenya, 28, to choose between suppressing her hormone levels by medical means, competing with men, competing in intersex events, and retiring. That is, if she wants to run in any event between from the 400 meters and the mile.”
It has taken more than two months for three sports judges in Switzerland to arrive at this verdict, showing how sensitive and complex the issue is, BBC reports.
Semenya shot to fame in 2009 when she won the world 800m title. Critics later started raising questions about her sex, which made her spend 11 months on the sidelines when the IAAF conducted a gender verification process.
The Limpopo-born runner was later said to be taking medication to lower her testosterone level until 2015 when the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) suspended an IAAF rule that enforced a limit on naturally occurring levels.
The new IAAF regulations restricting testosterone to five nanomoles per litre for at least six months before a competitive event in female athletes will kick in on May 8.
Experts say that typical women have testosterone levels under two nanomoles per litre.
Semenya’s lawyers had earlier said that their client’s “unique genetic gift should be celebrated, not regulated.” Supporters of the South African Olympic gold medalist agree and have since rallied behind her when news broke that she had lost the case at the CAS.
For many, the ruling is sexist, discriminatory, and unfair, considering the athlete is only being penalized for the biological traits she was born with while others in similar positions have been ignored.
Others argue that the ruling is obviously racist.
Bruce Kidd, a former Olympian and Kinesiology professor at the University of Toronto, earlier told CBC that the IAAF’s new rules only include events that black athletes have historically dominated.
“They have identified seven events where they think there is a correlation [between testosterone levels and performance]. Two of them are the pole vault and hammer throw and they have not made them part of this new rule, and those are events that are dominated by white women. They have targeted the mile, an event that is currently dominated by black women. And the mile isn’t even part of their study. It’s hard not to draw the conclusion this is a racist, targeted test.”
Kyle Knight, a researcher in the LGBT rights program at Human Rights Watch further believes that taking the proposed IAAF testosterone suppressants would be as “humiliating as it is medically unnecessary” for female athletes whose hormone levels are outside what is accepted.
Semenya had raised issues about the issue in 2017 with the New York Times: “I just want to run naturally, the way I was born. It is not fair that I am told I must change. It is not fair that people question who I am.”
Here’s how people are reacting to the ruling that has been deemed a disgrace on the sports world: