August 27th, 2016 | Sport
Caster Semenya is a South African athlete who recently won gold in the women’s 800m at the Rio 2016 Olympics. That should not be controversial, but it is, because she has hyperandrogenism.
Hyperandrogenism is a medical condition where you have an excess of testosterone in your body. Because testosterone helps you train harder and recover faster, it is on the banned substance list in athletics. If you get caught taking it, you will be banned from competing (unless you are Russian, of course).
Caster Semenya hasn’t been taking it: she just has incredibly high levels of it in her body. But other athletes claim it is unfair: they say no matter how hard they train, they can never compete with someone who has so much testosterone.
My view, is that that is tough luck.
Caster Semenya isn’t cheating. She is just naturally bigger, stronger and faster than other athletes. That is just how sport is. It has never been a meritocracy. You can train as hard as you want, you are never going to beat Usain Bolt in a sprint. When we take the top athletes in the entire world, of course they are both hard working and physically gifted.
I have been running for 25 years and I still can’t get my 5k time to within a few minutes of Mo Farah’s 10k time. No amount of training is going to make me faster than he is. However, for consideration, I have laid out the possible paths we could take.
Let Caster Semenya compete
This is the obvious one, and the one I favour, as outlined above.
Not let Caster Semenya complete
So now we’re banning anyone with hyperandrogenism competing because we’re confused about their gender? That’s obviously discriminatory.
Make Caster Semenya take medication
You know, like we did with Alan Turing to try and cure his homosexuality. We could give her pills to reduce her testosterone levels to a “reasonable” level.
This sounds like Kurt Vonnegut’s distopian short story Harrison Bergeron in which ballet dancers must wear weights, newsreaders must have stutters and smart people must be dumbed down. We will be giving Usain Bolt a drag parachute and removing large segments of basketball players legs so that I can compete in the NBA?
Do away with gendered sport
Instead of diving everyone into men and women, we could just allow everyone to compete in the same competition. Do away with discrimination and give everyone an equal opportunity.
Make Caster Semenya compete with the men
Which would be totally unfair, because she is a woman.
Have a new “we’re not sure” category
As well as having a men’s race and a women’s race, we could introduce a new intersex category that would allow the IAAF to parade around anyone who doesn’t exactly fit into their nice gender boxes.
Personally, I find all other possible routes out of this situation either ridiculous, or offensive, or in some cases both. Caster Semenya is a wonderful athlete and should be allowed to compete.