Next weekend will see the final of the women’s 800m take place and although she is hotly tipped for victory, there are some who say Caster Semenya shouldn’t be allowed to compete at all.
The 25-year-old South African athlete is the subject of debate due to a medical condition known as hyperandrogenism, reports the Daily Mail.
The condition causes Caster’s body to produce and absorb an excessive amount of male hormones – meaning she has three times the amount of testosterone as the average woman.
As well as this, Caster has no womb or ovaries and, due to a chromosomal abnormality, internal testes.
It was Caster’s success at the World Championships back in 2009 that first thew her into the spotlight – with her domination leading to her right to compete as a woman to be reviewed.
And, as a direct result, in 2011, the International Association for Athletics Federations (IAAF) stipulated that female athletes with excessive testosterone should medicate to lower their levels to a female range – or stop competing.
“I’ve been subjected to unwarranted and invasive scrutiny of the most intimate and private details of my being,” said Caster at the time.
Under the new regime – predictably – Caster’s times slowed and by the time the 2012 Olympics came round she was nowhere near her best.
However, the new regulations were short-lived.
Following high profile complaints, in July last year, the IAAF’s rules were suspended due to there being insufficient evidence to link hyperandrogenism to improved performance.
The ruling means Caster no longer needs to chemically alter her testosterone levels. However, people have been quick to point out that if an athlete were to raise their levels of the hormone through doping – they would be banned.
And this of course has led to a debate over the fairness of the competition, with Paula Radcliffe saying:
When we talk about it in terms of fully expecting no other result than Caster Semenya to win that 800m, then it’s no longer sport and it’s no longer an open race.
Another former world champion, Ireland’s Sonia O’Sullivan, wrote in her newspaper column:
It’s through no fault of their own that these (intersex) athletes have been born with more male genes and hormones than female, but this doesn’t mean they can simply be classified as women and allowed to take part in women’s events.
But is it really for the world of sport to decide what is natural about our bodies or to force people to chemically alter the very nature of their being?
With a growing acceptance that both sex and gender exist on a spectrum rather than two specific categories it isn’t that surprising that the sporting world, with its traditional divisions for male and female events, is struggling to adapt.
But doubtless it will. At the end of the day it’s important to remember that in no way are athletes like Caster ‘cheating’. Thousands of hours of work have gone into her performance and most importantly Caster was born, identifies, and lives as a woman.
We wish her the best of luck.