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A view on Caster Semenya

CasterSemenyaThe Swiss courts recently released their judgement on the appeal brought by Semenya against the ruling that she cannot compete in women's athletics unless she takes medication to lower her testosterone levels.  Having looked into this case I find that there is a great deal of misinformation and misunderstanding on the matter - hence this posting.

The biggest source of confusion is the actual status of Caster Semenya. Most seem to think she is a woman with a condition that generates excess testosterone. Semenya herself has deliberately used privacy legislation to keep her medical/gender/sexual status hidden.  It is possible, however, by examining the words of the various bodies in detail, to arrive at a fairly reliable conclusion about this status.  I am pretty sure - I would put it above 99%/

Basically, Caster is a MAN with a specific genetic condition that means that at birth her genitalia presented as 'confusing', and she was mis-gendered as a girl and raised as that sex.  This is, of course, tragic and terrible for Caster. It does NOT mean, however, that Caster is sexually female - Caster is sexually male, including the hormone and enzyme balance that this entails - hence the very high (for a female) levels of testosterone. 

The YouTube commentator Noel Plum has summarised the details in his inimitable style here

It is important to be clear that discrimination is at the heart of this case - and RIGHTLY SO.  The whole notion of 'women's sport' is a protected category, designed explicitly to ensure that females can compete against other females, and not against men, who in most sports have a significant advantage.  Discrimination is not some some hidden evil, it is the entire point of having categories in sport - the attempt to make competition as fair as possible by discriminating - ie dividing competitors into different classes, according to weight, height, gender or other criteria. It would make little sense for a featherweight male boxer to fight a heavyweight- the outcome could be predicted in almost every case. Likewise there is little point in women competing against men at elite level - at least in every competitive sport I can think of  (YES I KNOW there must be exceptions that I can't think oi - and I'd be grateful for any info on that from readers - but surely the general point is both made and convincing to any fair observer).

Semenya maintains that she is a woman (she is either simply wrong here or she is also attempting to dissemble), and that she is being unfairly discriminated against, on grounds of biological features over which she has no control and which, in any case, should not be the subject of discrimination.  This is, at the very least, misleading and disingenuous. Caster is biologically male, whatever GENDER choice she decides to make. She can chose to live as a woman and nobody will (I hope) find any issue with that. Caster cannot, however, force society to identify her as female and allow competition in a class of sport deliberately and explicitly designed to exclude males.

The decision of the court was as reasonable as it was anticipated. The court threw out the appeal in a well reasoned judgement that basically points out the above.  I feel some sympathy for Caster (albeit lessened significantly because of her dishonesty), but Caster must accept that she can live as a woman but not compete at elite level as a woman, on the reasonable and valid grounds that her physiology is male, and that this gives her significant advantages over other female elite athletes.

Incidentally, if she lowers her testosterone to a level typical of female competitors then she CAN compete., and I think that this is wrong, or at least over-generous, given that many physiological changes have already had significant effect and even reduced testosterone would not reduce these advantages (the male skeleton is significantly different, largely in response to a second flooding with testosterone during puberty).

I wish Caster well, but the decision is correct and fair and I think that most people would agree.

Caster now, like me, cannot compete in women's athletics at elite level. I have learned to live with that limitation - now so must she.

 

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