Torn between racism and sexism

There are no known androgynous Namibian athletes; however, Caster Semenya's case is a topic of debate which touches many in the world of sports.

10 September 2020 | Sports

LIMBA MUPETAMI

WINDHOEK



On Tuesday, South African two-time Olympic champion Caster Semenya lost her long legal battle against track and field rules that limit a female runner's naturally high testosterone level.

Semenya has a rare genetic condition that significantly elevates her testosterone levels above the standard female range.

Therefore, the Swiss Supreme Court dismissed Semenya's appeal against the Court of Arbitration for Sport ruling last year that upheld the rules drafted by tracks governing body affecting female runners with differences of sex development. The ruling states that if she wants to compete in the 400m to 1500m she needs to be treated with hormone-suppressing drugs.



Divided opinion

Many Namibians who follow the athlete's career and enjoy track and field shared their thoughts on social media on the outcome of the case which seems to be divided amongst racism, sexism and gender discrimination.

“This is discrimination at its best. Actually, they are saying don't embrace who you are, they say hate yourself and the way God created you,” said Estee Kainderera.

“She is being dehumanised, forced to take suppressants to do what she loves, simply because she was born this way. This is her state and the International Association of Athletics Federation (IAAF) has a problem with it,” said John Witbeen.

Others like Richard Kambinda said this is not a racial issue. “The verdict seems unreasonable on her side. But on the side of her competition it is unfair, as her high testosterone gives her an added advantage more than anyone in the competition.” On the other hand, the president of the Namibia National Olympic Committee, Abner Xoagub, said that the decision was about fair play.

Xoagub said hormonal treatment is common for men and that there are a number of women on hormonal treatment for various reasons.

He added that Semenya's DNA and chromosomal issues haven't been shared due to confidentiality up till now.



Out of 800m race

This ruling has nixed any chance for the South African star to defend her title in her signature event at the Tokyo Olympics next summer, or to compete at any top meets in distances from 400m to upwards, unless she agrees to lower her testosterone level through medication or surgery six months before competing.

Athletes have three options to do that: taking birth control pills, having testosterone-blocking injections or undergoing surgery.



Semenya refuses

Semenya said she would not do that. “I will continue to fight for the human rights of female athletes, both on and off the track, until we can all run free the way we were born. I know what is right and will do all I can to protect basic human right, for young girls everywhere.”



Other athletes with advantages

In May last year, columnist Kathryn Augustine wrote in the Daily Northwestern that Olympic swimmer and gold medallist Michael Phelps is genetically endowed with a proportionally longer wingspan, larger than average hands and a double-jointed chest. “These seemingly arbitrary differences are all advantages for Phelps in the sport of swimming, helping him get ahead with each stroke that he takes. Phelps also produces half the amount of lactic acid – an acid produces in muscle tissue that is responsible for fatigue – as his fellow competitors,” she said.

Phelps is not alone. Former Olympic sprinter and gold medallist Usain Bolt towers at 6 feet and 5 inches, towering over competitors as the tallest elite sprinter in history. His longer stride, in conjunction with his high step frequency, gives him a clear advantage over his competitors.

Like Semenya, these two athletes are also arguably genetically superior to their competitions. Applying the same logic set forth by IAAF means that they should have been required to impossibly reduce the wingspan, hands and feet, remove the second set of joints in his chest and increase the volume of lactic acid produced by his muscles in Phelps's case. Bolt would have been required to reduce his height to that of a typical sprinter.

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