Tuesday , 24 October 2017

What’s a nice girl like you doing with so much testosterone?

Caster Semenya by Citizen59
Caster Semenya by Citizen59

I was never sporty at school. I could run. I could always run. I did captain my “house” track and field team one year, and ran two legs of a 4X100 relay barefoot. I even played Rugby for a while; Rugby Union, that is, not the sad, ersatz variety commonly played by our southern neighbours.

I expect that the decision to offer me the captaincy had more to do with the risk I ran of requiring the surgical removal of a book from my “Golum puds” than my sporting prowess.

Later I was to enjoy the loneliness of the long distance runner. I enjoyed it too much, and I was asked to captain my “house” quiz team, and spelling team. Yes, I was a bookish swot and I am woefully under-qualified to comment on any aspect of sport, and my knees are so knackered now that I can no longer jog, never mind run.

I read this yesterday, and my blood began to boil in my veins. Lynsay Sharp is a fine athlete. She must be; she is a member of the triumphant Team GB who enjoyed record-breaking success at the 2016 Olympic games in Rio de Janeiro.

Shall we place her achievement in perspective? Ms Sharp was sixth in the woman’s 800M final. This is no disgrace; reaching the final is an achievement. Her time of 1:57.69 was her personal best and places her 532nd [equal] in the table of the all time fastest 800M finishes.

Ms Sharp was disappointed. I can understand that, but she does need to take on board the knowledge that her own personal best time was nowhere near good enough, and that five other women stood between herself and a gold medal, and two between a herself and lowly bronze.

The race winner was Caster Semenya. Ms Semenya clocked the worlds 20th fastest 800M of all time. Well done her! Well, maybe not?

Ms Semenya has been the subject of endless controversy, and this is set to continue, while the International Amateur Athletic Federation [IAAF] dilly dally around their lack of hard science for their claim that Ms Semenya and others have an unfair advantage over “normal” women.

Ms Semenya was cleared to run only days before the games’ opening following a decision by the Court of Arbitration for Sport [CAS] that the IAAF had not substantiated their claim that athletes like Ms Semenya with hyperandrogenism [a condition resulting in the presence of high levels of testosterone] had a competitive edge.

The IAAF were unable to produce any clear evidence that hyperandrogenism gave athletes an unearned advantage.

The science is unclear and inconclusive and anyone interested in pursuing this matter further might start here – “Out of Bounds? A Critique of the New Policies on Hyperandrogenism in Elite Female Athletes” by

Katrina Karkazis , Rebecca Jordan-Young , Georgiann Davis & Silvia Camporesi. This article was published online in 2012.

In conclusion the authors were able to support “the central assumption underlying the IAAF and IOC policies is that atypically high levels of endogenous testosterone in women create an unfair advantage and must therefore be regulated. The current scientific evidence, however, does not support the notion that endogenous testosterone levels confer athletic advantage in any straightforward or predictable way. Even if naturally occurring variation in testosterone conferred advantage, is that advantage unfair?”

The IAAF was unable to convince CAS in July this year that there is sufficient evidence to support the claim that hyperandrogegism offers an unfair advantage to those with this or similar conditions. Four years after Caster Semenya won a silver medal at the Olympic games in London, the IAAF remains unable to find science enough to convince sports final court of appeal. Might I suggest that the evidence is unavailable because there is no clear advantage gained by those women who have this condition?

For women whose hyperandrogenism is a problem for them the condition can be moderated by the use of medications, though there may be unacceptable outcomes. In some cases surgery has been recommended for athletes, including clitoral surgery.

Ms. Semenya is not alone. There is a terrible history behind this current controversy. Bad science has damaged the lives of other athletes caught in societies’ failure to acknowledge that gender is not as simple as we pretend that it is.

At the heart of the matter is the cis-normative fear of anything and everyone who challenges the gender binary, anyone who does not conform to a paternalistic and misogynistic sexual and gender stereotypes. The IAAF has chosen to target hyperandrogenism as unnatural and out of bounds because they feel rather than know they are right. They are the product of a society that has failed to acknowledge sexual and gender variance. They must be resisted.

About Lesley Stafford

Lesley Stafford
Lesley Stafford was active on issues around the treatment of male to female transsexuals within the NHS, and is co author of a report by the Women Thinking Trans Issues Group. She is a freelance grumpy old woman.

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