When the IAAF was founded in 1912, at the end of the Stockholm Olympics, the aim and purpose was to properly govern and protect the sport of athletics, to establish the rules and regulations to which all athletes would comply.
At first, women were actually banned from participating, only for that to change slowly and then suddenly over the years. Now, 107 years later, one of the most controversial rules introduced to regulate the men’s and women’s category in sport has been upheld by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS).
It was never meant to get personal, only inevitably, once Caster Semenya challenged the IAAF’s ruling that required female athletes with differences in sex development (DSD) to comply with a lower testosterone level. , if they wished to compete in the women’s category in distances ranging from 400m to the mile. The goal and objective here was to create a more level playing field for women at these distances.
The regulations, which were due to be implemented in November 2018, were put on hold when Semenya challenged the IAAF, saying the new regulations would discriminate against her and other female athletes with DSD. Again, the goal and the objective was to be fair to all women and not let athletes born with DSDs rule the sport as they have been for the past few years since the original rule was suspended in 2015.
Through no fault of hers, Semenya had become the face of the problem facing the IAAF and its two distinct male and female categories in sport. There was never any question of singling out Semenya either, but she was always at the center of the debate because she was so dominant in the 800m, the event most affected by athletes with DSD.
The thing is, Semenya is not the only athlete who will have to comply with the new rules, but she is the name that is making headlines and so the debate still seems to center on one athlete and the IAAF.
In reality, the new regulations are there to protect the sport and all women who aspire to run and maybe one day compete in a world or Olympic final. These events are governed by the IAAF and therefore if an athlete wishes to compete in an IAAF sanctioned event they must comply with the rules. It is just a rule that was created to ensure fairer and more level playing field for all women.
Athletics is a simple sport; results are invariably defined by best, fastest, highest, strongest. It is one of the few sports where men and women, even competing in separate categories, compete in the same stadium, at the same time, in front of the same audience.
Even in more modern times, athletics is still one of the few sports where female athletes are treated equally and given the same respect as male athletes. It is recognized that women do not reach the same speed, height or distance as men at the highest level, but this does not diminish the interest in women’s track and field competitions. Competitive racing can be equally exciting whether it’s men or women racing on the athletics track.
This is where the problem started for the IAAF, and why something had to be done to put women’s sport back on track and bring about change for the benefit of the sport and also for the benefit of future athletes.
The women’s 800m has been dominated by three athletes in recent years: Semenya, Francine Niyonsaba of Burundi and Margaret Wambui of Kenya. This is not normal dominance, but a significantly greater advantage shown in each run that exceeds a level that a non-DSD female athlete can fairly compete with. The race is decided before it starts, and over time it has become more apparent that there is an anomaly and something needs to be done to keep women’s sport and competition within the rules of the game. ‘IAAF.
Whenever there is a change to a rule or regulation, there will be those for and those against it: it can take time to accept and adapt to the changes. It has already taken the better part of a decade to get to this point where a rule has been defined and proposed, challenged and still in effect.
There is still some way to go to understand exactly how the rule will be implemented. This was recognized in the CAS decision, including the difficulties in implementing the DSD Regulation. Will all female athletes be required to be tested for testosterone levels to ensure they are below the now permitted natural limit of 5 nmol/L?
There are also concerns about the required lowering of testosterone levels by DSD athletes, and whether this is the best solution, as the implications of taking medication can have profound effects mentally and physically on anyone beyond the main purpose of taking medication. This is perhaps the only thing that needs to be addressed in any other way by the IAAF: can they encourage drug use to be compliant, while still discouraging drug use in sport?
A separate category may eventually evolve to allow affected athletes to continue to compete and enjoy their sport, alongside the traditional male and female categories that are the mainstays of our sport.
In my opinion, this is a positive decision, taken to preserve the future of women in sport, to promote fair and meaningful competition within the women’s category of athletics. There are always those concerns from the CAS panel about the implementation of the DSD rules that the IAAF will need to iron out and work on as the rule is implemented over time.
My other concern is that the events being promoted are only 400m to the mile: Semenya is already trying her hand at the 5,000m where she recently won the South African championships. Limiting events seems short-sighted: all things being equal, a female athlete lining up for a marathon may still be at a disadvantage compared to an athlete with higher testosterone levels, as long as she is also lean and makes the right choices. training.
I can’t think of any track and field event where a female athlete wouldn’t be undermined by a female athlete rated with DSD if she trained specifically for that event.
If Semenya breaks the rules and goes up to the 5000m, and suddenly turns out to be internationally competitive, you have to wonder why not just draw a line through all the women’s events while the iron is hot, and be final and decisive at all levels in defining the women’s athletics events and the female athletes who correspond to the category.
I don’t believe we’ve crossed the finish line yet on a conclusive solution. So why leave the door ajar? The lines can be drawn now, as people begin to come to terms with the big picture and what it means for the future of women’s participation, not just in athletics, but in all sports.