The International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) have a most compelling issue to deal with. The biological make-up of certain high-profile athletes has caused great concern and challenges within the sports fraternity.
Most notably is the controversy that surrounds South Africa’s Caster Semenya. The middle distance, and sometimes 400 meters (m) standout, physically, looks more masculine than the vast majority of her female peers. The IAAF has reportedly taken an official position that Semenya is “biologically” a male. Thus, the IAAF has put forth a new set of rules regarding testosterone levels. The idea is to ensure that the testosterone in female competitors is not above a certain limit.
It’s now a court matter, and in the meantime, Semenya has not been competing. Semenya is a test case, as there will be a number of other athletes brought into question regarding whether they are unfairly competing in female fields.
There is for instance, the Niger native Aminatou Seyni. She is likely to hook up with our own Shaunae Miller-Uibo at some point in the near future, either over 200m, 400m or in one of the sprint relays. She has clocked a personal best of 22.89 seconds over 200m and 49.19 seconds in the 400. What’s mind-boggling about Seyni is her amazing progression. She is dropping more than a full second each year in the 400m over the past three seasons.
At this pace, she will be running the half lap regularly in 21-plus seconds by next year and she will be well under 49 seconds for the longer sprint. There is a focus on her, for sure. So, indeed, the biological make-up of certain athletes looks to present a constant struggle for the IAAF.
The IAAF and the IOC are firm now on gender verification. Today, the culture is far different from 40-50 years ago. There were a couple of sisters, Russians. I refer to the Press sisters, Tamara and Irina, weight and sprints specialists, respectively. They were hefty athletes with male-looking torsos.
They competed during the 1950s and 1960s under a cloud of controversy and history records them having to deal with accusations of being mostly male, or intersex. Despite that scenario, they participated at the highest of world levels in track and field, won medals for the mother country Russia, and in the case of Tamara, is considered one of the all-time great performers from the discipline of athletics.
They were no longer competing in the 1970s, having retired around 1966. They retired without having to officially defend their gender. It is different today.
So, as long as the IAAF and the IOC stick to insisting that the hormone factors are in keeping with still being considered a female competitor, the obvious ladies of the sport like Miller-Uibo, Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, Dina Asher-Smith and Elaine Thompson could feel comfortable about a level competitive field.
The limiting of testosterone levels for Semenya and others like her, means they have three choices: go to the courts, agree to take medication that reduces testosterone amounts in them, or simply stay out of competition.
It’s an unfolding story, nevertheless.
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