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Brother Seb, sister Cas and the whys and wherefores of the CAS/IAAF castration—in black and white!

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.

Photo: South Africa track star Caster Semenya.

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.”

Photo: South Africa track star Caster Semenya.
(Copyright NPR.org)

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?

Photo: Russia tennis star Maria Sharapova (left) looks on as US star Serena Williams scoops up another major trophy.

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.

Photo: IAAF president and former Britain track star Sebastian Coe.
(Copyright IAAF.org)

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.”

Photo: South Africa track phenomenon Caster Semenya.

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.

About Earl Best

Earl Best
Earl Best taught cricket, French, football and Spanish at QRC for many years and has written consistently for the Tapia and the Trinidad and Tobago Review since the 1970's. He is also a former sports editor at the Trinidad Guardian and the Trinidad Express and is now a senior lecturer in Journalism at COSTAATT.

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44 comments

  1. Keith Look Loy I’m putting your link in here instead: https://trib.al/9GrW70B

    • Gregory told that the federation discovered she was assigned male at birth by insisting that an official sit in while she took a urine test.

      She said: ‘I did my business while somebody watched me sitting on the toilet. And so that’s where that statement comes from, because I’m sure she told them, ‘Hey! This girl’s got a penis!’

    • Lasana Liburd Thank god she is not black, as Earl Best would say that is why she was stripped of the medals and records. I just hate this race crap.

  2. David Nakhid

    Earl, I waited a bit to answer your question because I really wanted to see the confuddled mosaic of tripe that people would come up with to make a case against the South African world beater. Lost on them and not surprisingly are the facts. One, she was declared a woman by the IAAF 2) She was declared a woman by the IAAF…..hence end of discussion about whether she is producing more testosterone than a so called normal woman…..man I could take you to some villages in Greece where the Yaya(grandmother )has more hair on her face than the Papou(grandfather). If this is a natural phenomenon for Caster, a and she embraced it hell even enhanced it to dominate her discipline….who the hell are these self hating negroes or devious white racists to try and subjugate her ? As to your question about Messi, my remarks are based on fact but not necessarily about the little wonder. Sports science has shown that elite athletes in most disciplines who seem to be always a step or 2 ahead of their opponents usually have the quicker twitching muscle fibres(layman’s term here) that enable the physiological step up in gears or you have an athlete and Johann Cruyff comes to mind, whose brain was his advantage. He just thought quicker than everyone else therefore he moved quicker than everyone else.

  3. It have transgender men competing in women’s track and Field and winning it ,recently I saw a story of a transgender man winning the women’s powerlifting championship in the US ,these two situations the IAAF and IOC is not questioning ,but they’re coming down on a black woman who’s dominating on the tracks because she looks like a man ,boy this world is really upside down.

  4. Caster will be the first of many. Gender ambiguity affects 1 in 2000. Previously people have been medicated with hormones to make them fit either the male or female ‘norm’. Parents are now more likely to reject medication and allow their child to develop in the natural way for them. Time to accept that humans come in more than two genders and come up with a different system in sport which allows for fairness and acceptance. Not sure exactly how that will look.

    • You’re right Jo Ann, however, is the IAAF prepared to include several subsets of women’s categories? Because it’s generally understood that no one really cares to study or legislate any rules that will affect the open male category in athletics competition. If you’re a man with less physical endowments then salt for you.
      Will we see women’s gender-based categories that mirror the subdivisions in para sport, for instance?

    • in combat sports, weight divisions separate fighters into more equitable matches. In golf and horse racing handicaps are in place for a variety of reasons.
      In Japanese N1 racing the winner from this week gets a weight penalty added on. In rallying they winners go last in the next stage…there are many ways to correct perceived and actual disadvantages in competition.
      However…at the very top of most elite sport is ALWAYS the open category.
      Formula 1, MotoGP…Le Mans…you race what you bring.

    • They could trial some new events. In community marathons everyone runs then there are multiple medals.

  5. Earl Best

    “Caster is a woman for every other purpose in law.”

    …which is really my point. Unless and until we establish that she is NOT a woman, all the rest is just literature. And in 2009, she satisfied the IAAF rules for womanhood; that is a matter of record.

    But you yourself concede the point, I think. What else are we to understand by your “…and if we do not know these things then, the question ultimately is: Is Caster woman “enough” to compete against women?”

    For as long as we do not know these things, should not things remain in the state in which they are? Is that not the norm in sport? Give me one good reason why, with no clear evidence ON THE RECORD that she is NOT “woman enough,” as you put it, they want to change the rules.

  6. Earl Best

    “Nigel Clement Bit different. He was a male competing with other males.”

    Caster Semenya was required to take a sex test after her Worlds victory in 2009. She passed. Maybe there are others who have also had to do it but I am unaware of any.

    Also people need to be reminded of what every SOC 101 student has been told: sex and gender are NOT the same; sex is innate, gender is learned.

    And for the curious, it needs also be said that Semenya is married to a woman but that does not make her, in the IAAF’s terms, a man. If it did, you can bet your bottom dollar that they would be telling her that she has to compete against the male two-lappers.

  7. Earl Best

    David, most of what you say is right on the ball. Without the introduction, you would have got 10 out of 10.

    And thanks for sharing the bit about Messi’s muscle fibres. Are you speculating? Is this an on-the-record fact or have you arrived at your conclusion from seeing him at work on the field?

  8. Earl Best

    “As with victims of lupus, Semenya’s enemy is her own body. The situation in which she found herself was tough, but it was untenable.”

    If I understand you correctly, they are right to punish her for what she is. Well, brother, you can tell me that a million times and you won’t get me to budge one inch from my position. Every living being, the philosopher has said, strives to continue to be in the state that (s)he is.

    Who am I to gainsay him?

    As for your “untenable,” I wholeheartedly agree. Totally untenable! How can we allow this black bitch from Africa to be beating the best the white world can produce? It’s unnatural, that’s what it is!

  9. nice piece by Best.
    However, avoiding the heavy science in this is both misleading and damaging to the glow-up of Caster.
    Let me explain…
    The IAAF is not targeting “women with high natural testosterone”. This rule specifically targets a type of “intersex” birth-female with 46, XY chromosomes.
    Leaving that specific out opens this up to the normative gender arguments…Caster is not “identifying as female”–she was born with ambiguous genitalia. That separates her from the hundreds of born-men who are now identifying as “female” for the purpose of entering and competing against birth XX female athletes.
    The distinction must be made here.
    Caster is a woman for every other purpose in law.
    And then there’s the issue of what possible consequences being an XY female can carry.
    Does Caster have a womb?
    We know a (from the leaked, anecdotal evidence from early in her career) that Caster is internal testes. What we don’t know is if she has a vagina, if she has a womb, if she has ovaries…and if we do not know these things then, the question ultimately is: Is Caster woman “enough” to compete against women?
    By sidestepping the hard science here, all Best does is make the emotive arguments…but that’s not what’s going to carry this over the legal lines.
    It’s time we split this thing down the middle: What if Caster is an XY woman with a unformed vaginal cavity and internal testes? Do we still celebrate her?
    What makes Caster different from transgender women who transitioned as adults? On the label, they will be outwardly indistinguishable from an XY birth female with no outside presentation of a penis. Will we also cheer for those athletes when they beat women by 4 seconds, just because they’re black?

    • Dennis hence the righteous call that she belongs in a different category.

    • But does she? That’s the plot twist. Who died and gave IAAF permission to determine who is female? There are other issues at play here that make that determination a human rights issue because, if successful, what else does this sub-categorization imply for people with genital ambiguity at birth? The truth is there are no easy answers but one thing is certain, IAAF compete at the Olympics and the IOC rules are trending towards including 46,XY women and transsexual women and birth men who “gender identify as women” in women’s competition and not in a third class of gender. It’s already happened in NCAA. Suppressing testosterone for a birth woman who was a woman all her life is not the same for a transsexual woman who was a full man up to a year prior to competition. Testosterone is only part of the story of what makes a man a man.

  10. ok, first off… her body ain’t producing too much of anything. It’s producing what she needs. Humans are evolving whether anyone believes in evolution or not, belief is the problem here. People believe she should be more like this way or that. Secondly, I ask, if Becky from good ole USA was the one getting all these medals would there be a problem? I rest my mfing case.
    Addendum: If her body was producing too much of something, most likely it would result in health issues or she would be dead already.

  11. this is the womens 800m record holder and the IAAF has never even questioned her genetics Jarmila Kratochvilova she is czech

    • Not Norwegian. Czechoslovakian. Czech in today’s money. People who like to make equivalency arguments have to be careful. Old people like me remember issues being raised about her, Mariita Koch of East Germany and Flo-Jo (who was black).

    • Orin Gordon it is said that flo jo was on the juice much like carl lewis who was part of that programme from the USAAF to keep up and compete with the eastern european powerhouse

  12. It isn’t about race. And it’s not analogous to the West Indies fast bowler situation. To me, respectfully, race is a lazy framing of the Semenya debate. Some of the women inconvenienced by and vocal about the naturally induced doping to near-male levels of hormone are black women. It’s a terribly complex and tragic case. As with victims of lupus, Semenya’s enemy is her own body. The situation in which she found herself was tough, but it was untenable.

    • That’s not to say that CAS decision is watertight. It isn’t. It is eminently contestable. But I find it kind of wearying that nearly every decision that inconveniences a black athlete is because of race. We saw the same thing with Serena’s disgraceful behaviour in Flushing Meadows, even though her opponent was herself (half) black. Race in the Semenya case is the easy framing that stops us really doing our jobs as journalists, and trying to understand how CAS, arbitration and science served or failed everyone in this case.

    • I think folks are suggesting a level of unconscious bias. Difficult (if at all possible) to prove but to blindly discard it is arguably naive… we are all imperfect beings.

    • fair way of putting it. To be blunt, though, I think it’s a badly argued article.

    • Orin – Agree – not very well constructed.

  13. David Nakhid

    Earl, I know full well that all the whys? in your very accurate piece are rhetorical, as rhetorical as someone asking if St.Mary’s College has produced the better footballers than QRC over their 2 glorious histories ….clearly a no-brainer. Onto my point, yes it’s entirely about race and to place it in any other box shows the continued mindset of a colonial house nigger. Therein lies the problem of our people, we want to accommodate the insecurities and complexes of the ruling white power complex even at our own expense. History is replete with examples of the white power structure moving the goalposts when it not only suits their agenda but their need to put the negro in his place. Only Almighty GOD knows that if the Master Blaster and the Prince of POS had not only done their talking with their bats ,but had dared to be more militant in promoting black and brown causes internationally, laws no doubt would have been passed forcing them to bat with paper straws. You see Earl as you correctly stated, the black athlete smiling and grinning for the camera with not much to say on serious issues is gold for the racist power elites , but throw a plantation negro in there or a groundbreaking black woman like Caster or Serena, then we have debates on innocuous bull crap. If Caster is a target as a phenomenon of nature, then I would like Messi’s lightening quick muscle fibres investigated by medical science. No chance of that right, then where is the #metoo movement when a black woman is under attack ? Or is that only for petite feminine white women? And that’s my beef with our people, as we attach ourselves to any and every cause that springs up , but never seem to take care of our own business!!!

  14. So taking enhancing drugs are illegal but when your body produces to much of something on its own they want you to take a drug to decrease it? i’m wondering if she was of a different colour if they would’ve had the same stance?

  15. I think a lot of people in the general population are confused and don’t understand that she is a natural woman. They think she was a male because of her appearance. I think she will go down in history as someone who was a catalyst for change in the notion that people are either Male or Female and will open up the way for the 1 in 2000 people worldwide that are in some way gender ambiguous. Up to now people in Caster’s siuatiin may have been taking testosterone loweing meds just to make themselves look more feminine in an attempt to ‘fit in’ I suspect such a change may take time.

  16. Man, why do you have to always make things out to be about Race or othering. clearly young people like Caster, clearly she belongs in a different category

    • Derek Abdullah Nasir Salick you’re serious???? What category do you suggest 🙄

    • Derek Abdullah Nasir Salick category? Really? So there should be an others category for her to compete in?

      Utter rubbish! Her ‘condition’ is naturally occurring and makes her more human, not less than or other than human! Again, is anyone suggesting that Phelps artificial shorten his wingspan or increase his lactic acid output to match what is considered ‘normal’?

      This thing reeks of racism. That is undeniable. To class it otherwise is a slap in the face of logic and sense.