Here, our favourite veteran journalist Colin Hart shares his views on the recent Caster Semenya ruling:
The Caster Semenya case has bitterly divided the athletic world in what has become track and field’s equivalent of the Brexit debate.
The Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) voted 2-1 in favour that Semenya must surpress her testosterone levels in order to compete in middle distance events. That ruling is going to affect every female member of Track Academy who has ambitions to compete at the sports elite level.
I would much prefer to be writing about something far more light-hearted. But the CAS decision has become such a contentious issue it simply cannot be ignored. No doubt it has divided opinion at Track Academy just has it has done at international level.
Semenya, South Africa’s formidable double Olympic and four time world 800 metres champion is one of an extremely small number of women who naturally produce higher levels of testosterone which automatically gives her a considerable advantage over her rivals. Experts have worked out women like Semenya may have as much as three per cent improvement in performance which can make the difference between a gold medallist and being an also-ran. Semenya’s argument was that the IAAF rules regarding testosterone suppression for female athletes was discriminatory.
She took her plea to CAS who agreed her complaint was valid. But vitally added such discrimination is a necessary, reasonable and proportionate means of achieving the IAAF’s aim of preserving the integrity of female athletes. So the ironical outcome for Caster is if she wants to compete at distances between 400 and 1500 metres she will have to take drugs to bring down her testosterone levels. When she was asked in Doha recently if she intends to comply, Semenya replied emphatically “Hell no”.
Britain’s top women athletes, past and present have very strong views on the rights and wrongs of Semenya’s predicament. Paula Radcliffe, Kelly Holmes and Jade Johnson fully back CAS’s stance and so does two lap runner Lynsey Sharp. Because she has been so outspoken on the subject Scottish lass Lynsey has revealed she and her family have received death threats from Semenya’s supporters.
But Kelly Sotherton, three time Olympic bronze medallist is among many who strongly believe CAS has got it wrong. Sotherton said “This is an ethical and moral issue that does not sit easy with me. Where does the line start and end?” Allyson Felix, America’s sprint super-star who has won six Olympic and 11 world championship golds is one of athletics’ most respected voices.
Felix is vehemently opposed to what CAS has done and has expressed extreme disappointment at the way Caster has been treated. Allyson said: “She is a friend of mine. This has been mishandled from the start. We are talking about a human being. “For all this to play out the way it has makes me cringe. To think of her dealing with this there has to be a better way.”
This controversy isn’t going to go away soon but it has much wider implications than Semenya’s dilemma. So many rightfully feel that women athletes must be protected against the distinct possibility of transgender athletes being unscrupulously exploited by nations out to win gold medals by any means. It’s certainly not a far-fetched concept. When I was covering athletics between 1969 and 2000 the Eastern European countries did it with their sophisticated, and officially undetected drug programme.
It’s interesting that East German Maria Koch’s 47.60 world 400m record has lasted 34 years and Czech girl Jarmila Kratochilova’s 1min 53.28 sec 800m world record, was set 36 years ago. My case rests M’lud.
I have tremendous sympathy for Caster who has become embroiled in this mess just because of an accident of birth. She has not taken steroids or any other performance enhancing drugs and despite the insults she has been subjected to has managed to retain her dignity throughout her ordeal. But there’s not a shadow of doubt because of the chemical make-up of her body she has an unfair advantage over her fellow competitors. For me sport at every level must be carried out on a level playing field and that’s why I agree with CAS.
Run For Your Life
Everyone connected with Track Academy must have been bursting with pride watching Connie Henry presenting the ITV documentary Run For Your Life, shown last month.
Connie and her team at Willesden do a magnificent job and much of the programme was very emotional. Everyone knows Connie is a Commonwealth Games triple jump bronze medallist. But I didn’t know she could have been a star of the English girls’ crying team if had been selected!
My only criticism is that the programme deserved to go out at prime time instead of getting a late night slot.