South Africa’s embattled Caster Semenya is black. And she’s a mighty middle-distance runner, having accumulated 30 victories on the trot in the 800m between 2007 and last Friday.
The Court of Arbitration for Sport, the sports world highest jurisdiction, last week ruled against the two-time Olympic champion. If she wants to continue competing in 800m and 1500m races, she must henceforth comply with the IAAF’s requirement that she take medicine to reduce her testosterone levels.
Stressing that Semenya ‘has done nothing to warrant any personal criticism,’ CAS deemed the IAAF’s proposal to institute the testosterone level control ‘discriminatory’ but found the discrimination acceptable because it is intended to protect female sport by levelling the playing field.
And the IAAF declined to heed the CAS recommendation that, in the face of ‘unconvincing evidence’ showing how testosterone levels affect the 1500 metres, they stay their hand on immediate application of the rule to races over that distance.
The UN says that Semenya has been unfairly prosecuted and the World Medical Association has urged doctors not to apply the IAAF’s regulations, which they condemn as ‘medically unethical.’
So? What’s my beef? Patience. Hear me out.
And let me say right at the outset that this is an infinitely more complex issue than this piece will suggest. So if you’re looking for discussion of biology and disorders of sexual development and genetic variations and human rights and morality and all that, stop now; appropriately for an athletics issue, I’m focusing simply on race.
“Blackball, blackguard, blackleg, blacklist, blackmail,” says the Oxford Dictionary of English (ODE). “Black arts, black book, black hole, black magic, black mark, black market, black sheep, black spot.”
And, less obviously, ‘denigrate’ and ‘necromancy.’
Duke’s 1969 calypso be damned, black, we are led to conclude, is not beautiful.
David Rudder sweetens the pot.
“…was a mighty man,” he explains in his 1987 hit ‘Haiti,’ “and to make matters worse he was black.”
Rudder does not say ‘black and ugly.’ Nor does the dictionary list the almost universally accepted twin phrase—political correctness presumably—which must have indirectly prompted Duke’s calypso. “High and mighty,” however, the other twin phrase Rudder’s song brings to mind, is listed in the ODE; it means, we are told, “Behaving as though one is more important than others.”
Cue Pink Panther’s ‘Misprint;’ the word ‘race’ seems to be missing after ‘one.’
Is that why cricket’s high and mighty overlords in the MCC changed the rules when West Indian spinners Sonny Ramadhin and Alfred Valentine were proving too much for England’s batsman to handle? Or why they changed them again when Babylon’s fire was making life at the crease hell for England’s batsman?
Between 1993 and 2007, however, when Australia’s Shane Warne, a mighty fine leg-spinner, was regularly collecting English and WI scalps in batches of four and five and moving inexorably to a whopping 708 Test wickets, no alterations were made to the rules.
Is it because Warne was not a man of colour?
Maria Sharapova, a court ruled, was not an ‘intentional doper.’ Her defence that she had inadvertently taken the drug meldonium because she did not know it was on the banned list was never seriously challenged.
If, I ask you, meldonium had been found in Venus’ or Serena’s sample…?
Michael Phelps has feet that are like flippers and an arm span that borders on the inhuman. Ever heard any suggestion that that gives him an unfair advantage? But neither Maria nor Michael…, well, you get my drift, I think.
Another Michael, surname Jordan, is a black man wont to let his basketball do all the talking; no threat for them to snuff out there. Lebron James puts no water in his mouth; have you noticed how they’re already saying that the newly baptised Laker is washed up?
Washed up too, they were saying, is Tiger Woods; three dozen white women can’t be wrong, can they? Last year’s Tour Championship win and last month’s masterly 15th major title at Augusta poured cold water on that. Temporarily.
If Muhammad ‘The Greatest’ Ali could have been stopped in the ring, would the courts have to tko him by pooh-poohing his conscientious objection?
And remember when IOC president Jacques Rogge told Usain Bolt he was not a legend but Steve Redgrave was? What, pray, does Bolt’s skin look like?
Do you know who Sebastian Coe is? And Steve Ovett? That pair of Englishmen dominated middle-distance running almost throughout the 1980s. I found this enticing titbit in Wikipedia: “The Daily Mirror ran a campaign and the president of the International Olympic Committee, Juan Antonio Samaranch, unsuccessfully tried to have the rules changed in Coe’s favour.”
It’s only Wikipedia, eh, but isn’t there usually fire where there is smoke?
In the same week of the CAS decision, two mighty long-distance champions, one who, born in Somalia, represents Britain and the other who runs for Ethiopia, were in the news. Ten-time World and Olympic medallist Mo Farah and Haile Gebrselassie, a six-time World and Olympic gold medallist, were publicly going hammer and tongs at each other over money the Briton lost in the Ethiopian’s hotel.
I feel certain that Rogge and the Lords of the Rings and Coe and the IAAF folk were laughing behind their hands and acrobatically patting themselves on the back at the same time. They are now one step closer to stopping Semenya in her tracks.
To me, none of this excessive testosterone stuff comes as a real surprise. Semenya, remember, was actually required to verify her sex when she first burst on the scene in the 2009 World Championships. And she has publicly accused Coe and co of being out to get her.
“For a decade, the IAAF has tried to slow me down,” she said in a defiant post-victory statement in Doha last week, “but this has actually made me stronger.”
“If something comes in front of me, I jump (over) it.”
The CAS ruling was not unanimous but she may just be biting off more than she can chew.
“Slavery,” a friend of mine told me once, “should have lasted five days, not 500 years!”
His case made, I pointed out that he had omitted to add, ‘…all things being equal.’
“In a world where we are telling athletes not to put any prohibited substances into their bodies,” Semenya’s lawyer told a television interviewer, “because we’re so concerned about doping, we think it’s deeply ironic that this rule requires athletes to take substances to change who they are.”
Things will continue, I confidently predict, not to be equal because there are no drugs that can make high and mighty international umbrella organisations like the IAAF, the IOC and Co(e) change who they are.