This week we celebrate exactly 20 years since the Sydney Paralympics. The well-known story is the incredible success of this momentous international event, the unknown story is that the Paralympic Games almost did not happen.
The controversy surrounding Caster Semenya winning the women’s 800m at the Rio Olympics doesn’t look like subsiding any time soon.
Semenya has been labelled as an ‘intersex athlete’ by some after results from a gender test revealed she has no womb or ovaries and has internal testes, the male sexual organs which produce testosterone, thereby explaining why her testosterone levels are much higher than a normal female.
The real issue here however is whether or not Semenya should be able to compete as a woman against other female athletes?
Due to her ‘genetic advantage’ she was required to take hormones to balance out her higher than normal testosterone level, which appears to have been an unprecedented measure taken by the IAAF before the 2009 World Championships.
This drastic course of action bought Semenya back to the field. However, after a landmark decision in the Court of Arbitration in 2015 when Dutee Chand – an Indian Sprinter who also has naturally-occurring high testosterone – won a case when her lawyers argued that it was discrimination to not allow her to make the most of genetic advantages.
After this case Semenya wasn’t required to take hormones anymore to lower her testosterone level and she started to dominate in the women’s 800m again.
Semenya’s gold medal-winning performance was undoubtedly the most controversial at the Rio Olympics. However to those who have been quick to criticise and call for Semenya to be banned from sthletics maybe they should consider this. Basketball players are not sanctioned for being tall, and men are not screened for testosterone levels.
A male runner could also have a ‘genetic benefit’, but that would be permitted.
It’s an ‘ethical minefield’ and a very sensitive issue so who are we to sit and judge and cast aspersions on whether somebody is a female or a male?. If God created Caster Semenya with an extraordinary ‘genetic advantage’ or in other words the biological equivalent of a turbo charger then she has been blessed, is that her fault?