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  • Caster Semenya won two Gold Coast medals in the women's 800 and 1,500 meters competition at the 2018 Commonwealth Games celebrated in Australia. April 13, 2018.

    Caster Semenya won two Gold Coast medals in the women's 800 and 1,500 meters competition at the 2018 Commonwealth Games celebrated in Australia. April 13, 2018. | Photo: Reuters

Published 2 May 2018

The regulations establish a series of criteria for athletes with a Difference of Sexual Development to be eligible to compete in events.

“God made me the way I am, and I accept myself. I am who I am, and I am proud of myself,” tweeted South African middle-distance runner and Olympic gold medalist Caster Semenya, following a controversial International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) regulatory proposal, which would compel female athletes with naturally occurring high testosterone levels to reduce them by taking medication or be excluded from competition.

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While Semenya has refrained from directly commenting on the proposal, which several observers believe targets her, except for a few her sporadic tweets, featuring captions promoting self-acceptance and equality many think the new rule could permanently bar her from international competition.

Starting November, the IAAF will require female middle-distance runners to keep their testosterone levels below five nanomoles per liter to participate in official competitions.

The new regulations lay down a series of criteria for athletes with a Difference of Sexual Development (DSD) to be eligible to compete internationally in specific events.

Following her outstanding performances in the African Junior Championship and the World Championship in Berlin, the IAAF asked Semenya to do a sex verification test in 2009, sparking a controversial case that the international sports community, and more specifically Semenya, are still dealing with.

Now, the IAAF will make these female competitors take hormonal contraceptives before being eligible to run in races between 400 and 1,500 meters.

According to the IAAF, the measure is aimed at providing a fair playing field in which all athletes have equal opportunities with results based on merit and not arbitrary physical advantages.

The IAAF's president Lord Sebastian Coe said the organization must "ensure a level playing field where success is determined by talent, dedication and hard work rather than other contributing factors."

"We want athletes to be incentivized to make the huge commitment and sacrifice required to excel in the sport, and to inspire new generations to join the sport and aspire to the same excellence," Coe said.

Dr. Stephane Bermon, the IAAF's chief medical officer, told ABC that scientific evidence shows that women with high levels of testosterone, described as “intersex,” enjoy an unfair advantage in some of the competitions, including the 400 and 800 meters races.

No evidence of that advantage was found in the 1,500 meters race, which was also included in the measure, suggesting the decision is targeting Semenya.

Within the IAAF, however, not everyone is happy with the new regulatory proposal. Steve Cornelius, a prominent South African law professor and IAAF's disciplinary tribunal member, resigned to protest the move. 

"The adoption of the new eligibility regulations for female classification is based on the same kind of ideology that has led to some of the worst injustices and atrocities in the history of the planet," Cornelius wrote in a letter sent to the Coe.

"How the IAAF Council can, in the 21st Century, when we are meant to be more tolerant and aware of fundamental human rights, even contemplate these kinds of objectionable regulations,” he wrote.

Apart from the sexist implications, others have also stated the decision is based on racial and cultural biases.

“We take this as very sexist, racial and homophobic,” said Tokozile Xasa, the South African sports, and recreation minister, “We are angry, and we want the entire country to rally behind us. Since Africans are doing well in these races, there are now a lot of questions that are surrounding them; thus we are very disappointed.”

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