Tuesday, August 24, 2010

My Two Cents on Semenya

BERLIN - AUGUST 22: Caster Semenya of South Africa competes in the women's 800m during the IAAF World Challenge ISTAF 2010 at the Olympic Stadium on August 22, 2010 in Berlin, Germany. (Photo by Boris Streubel/Bongarts/Getty Images)

I’ve not written anything on the Semenya case as of yet for several reasons. Mostly because it is really a fairly complicated matter. Especially as it deals with issues of privacy.

I will start off by saying that the IAAF among other organizations involved in the sport including the South African federation have sorely mishandled this matter from the very beginning. She was known to be “special” early on and her case should have been treated as such knowing both the short and long term ramifications of any decisions made regarding her. As such, some sort of final dispensation regarding her “eligibility” to compete with other women should have been made prior to her entering any sort of international competitions. It was wrong to finally decide to “do something” after she won a gold medal in front of the entire world.

Having said that, any decision made regarding her status is not just about her, but about her competitors and the sport in general moving forward.

As much as we live in a “politically correct” world where we try to pretend that we are all the same – we are not.  We are unique in our own ways and have differences. And sometimes those differences define who we are.

In this case, if it is true that Caster was born with both male and female gender characteristics, then her differences put her in a category of “not quite” – as in not quite male but not quite female either at birth. While her rights to “privacy” have kept a lid on documentation that would either confirm or deny this “story” I must assume that there is some shred of truth as she is undergoing hormone therapy as a condition of the IAAF for her to return to the track.

But while she is classified as a woman, I’m not sure any amount of “hormone therapy” is going to undo the almost two decades of “Testosterone therapy” that her body has already undergone. Because just as it is the “out of competition” drug use that is most beneficial to drug cheats as it’s that time where the hard work of developing the body takes place, Semenya has undergone her own version of “out of competition” physical development her entire life. As a result she is more physically advanced than any woman not in her situation could ever be – and nothing that can be done now will change that.

It’s not her fault. She hasn’t tried to cheat. But that doesn’t change the fact that it is what it is. And while I respect her “rights” as a person, I also respect the “rights” of those she would compete against. And no matter how hard they train, they will never reach the physical level that she has achieved – not without artificial aid.

It is for THAT reason that I have come to my own conclusion that she should not be allowed to compete against the Alysia Johnson’s, Phoebe Wright’s, and Morgan Uceny’s of the world. Because if it is our policy as a sport that our athletes are not to compete against those individuals who have had an unfair advantage in development – i.e. “enhancement” – then unfortunately Semenya falls into that category.  Somewhat of an extreme matter of “strict liability” – you are responsible for what is, and has been, in your system whether it entered your system because you willfully or knowing put it there, and whether you did so with intent to cheat or not. If it’s there and you gained an unfair advantage – and in cases where advantage was NOT gained – you are in violation and can not compete against “non enhanced” athletes.

As Mr. Spock would say, “the needs of the many out weigh the needs of the few” – or in this case the needs of the one. And as much as I feel for Caster, I also feel for all those women out there that will never have the opportunity to compete against her from a level playing field – no matter what they do short of cheating. It is for that reason that I take the position that she should not be allowed to compete against them. It’s very unfortunate because no matter what the final decision is there is a loser – the ultimate question is how many losers?

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