Two Namibian teenage sprinters have become the latest casualties of a hugely debated World Athletics rule that bans female athletes with naturally high testosterone levels from competing in events between 400 meters and a mile.
According to Reuters, the Namibia National Olympic Committee and Commonwealth Games Association on Friday announced Christine Mboma and Beatrice Masilingi – both 18-years-old – will not be able to compete in the aforementioned category at the Tokyo Olympics after medical tests conducted on them established their natural testosterone levels were excessively high.
“The results from the testing centre indicated that both athletes have a naturally high testosterone level,” a statement from the Olympic committee said. “According to the rule of World Athletics, this means that they are not eligible to participate in events from 400m to 1600m.”
The recent ruling to ban the Namibian athletes has cast a shadow over a rather promising career for the sprinters after they both achieved commendable feats at competitions in the 400m category this year.
Mboma wrote her name in the history books on Wednesday after she finished first in the women’s 400m race in Poland with 48.54 seconds. This set an under-20 world record and her time also became the fastest to be recorded in 2021, Reuters reported. Mboma’s time was also recorded as the seventh fastest of all-time in the 400m category for females. Her compatriot Masilingi also became the third-fastest sprinter this year after clocking 49.53 seconds at a competition in Zambia in April.
Besides, Mboma and Masilingi, Caster Semenya of South Africa as well as Burundi’s Francine Niyonsaba and Kenya’s Margaret Wambui are the other African female athletes who have been disqualified from certain events because of the rule. Female athletes, who wish to participate in events between 400 meters and a mile but are deemed to have high testosterone levels, are required to undergo a medical procedure to reduce their levels in order to be eligible. However, this rule has stoked a lot of controversy with Semenya challenging the regulation in court.
Meanwhile, the government of Namibia released a statement in response to the disqualification of Mboma and Masilingi, saying it wants the regulatory bodies to put in measures to ensure African athletes are not unfairly barred from certain competitions because of their “natural conditions.”
“The Ministry calls upon Athletics Namibia and the Namibia National Olympics committee to engage both the International Association of Athletics Federations (now known as World Athletics) and International Olympics Committee to seek ways that would not exclude any athlete because of natural conditions that are not of their own making,” the statement said.
“The Ministry calls upon governing bodies to level the playing fields that do not exclude Africans from competing at the international stage.” However, the teenagers will be allowed to compete in the 100m and 200m events at the Tokyo Olympics.
The news of the ban was also condemned on social media with people wondering why the Namibian teenagers, as well as the other African female athletes, would be prevented from competing because of their natural abilities. Others also compared their situation to that of Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps and pointed out the irony.
“I remember Michael Phelps being praised/celebrated for having body features that helped him swim better. Now that it’s Black women winning, suddenly that’s an issue?” a Twitter user questioned. “Justice for Namibia’s Christine Mboma, Beatrice Masilingi, Caster Semenya, Francine Niyonsaba and Margaret Wambui.”
Another user also posted: “Five African women who have dedicated their lives to their sport– all not able to compete due to natural testosterone levels.”
“So in the last few weeks: WTA said Osaka can’t take care of her mental health, gymnastics punished Simone for being too good, Sha’Carri banned for racist marijuana laws, five BW [Black Women] banned for natural testosterone levels. It’s almost as if there’s a concerted anti-BW effort here,” a user also shared.