Late last week, the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) upheld the (misogynistic and racist) International Association of Athletics Federations(IAAF) rule about testosterone levels in women racing in middle-distance athletics events. While the ruling applies to all runners in that category, it’s clear that the ruling exists because Caster Semenya is a better athlete that some women, and those women decided to complain about it to the IAAF.
For those of you not familiar with the issue, Vox has written about it here. Another article that gets at the heart of the issue is this one by Ruth Wood. It is true that Caster Semenya may have a natural advantage because she has increased testosterone levels, but it is also true that there are loads of other natural advantages that male athletes have. However, those are celebrated while Semenya’s are literally legislated away to the point that she’s being directed to take unnecessary pharmaceuticals so she can continue to compete.
That’s bullshit, the rule is ridiculous, and the people who are cheering the CAS ruling are, to be frank, acting like assholes.
The example used by many people (including a Washington Post article that is behind a pay wall, so I may be repeating some of what is said there) is Michael Phelps. The man has an abnormally large wingspan and produces 50% less lactic acid than the average person. If we are to deem genetic gifts or abnormalities as unfair advantages, then shouldn’t Phelps be required to, I don’t know, wear some sort of contraption that adjusts for his wingspan? Or take medication to make sure he produces more lactic acid?
No? Really? What’s the difference?
I’ve seen some people argue that this comes down to who gets to be female and who gets to be male in sport. And yes, the discussion about transgender athletes is one to have, because we now know that gender is a spectrum and doesn’t always conform to the one assigned at birth. But the thing is, Caster Semenya is not transgender. She is cisgender. She happens to produce more testosterone. And she’s used that advantage to make herself a better athlete. That should not be an issue.
What’s so disappointing here is that the issue is most commonly argued by white women, many of whom are not as good at running middle distances as Caster Semenya. There’s a bitterness to their complaints, as though if not for this injustice, they would have a gold medal. But that’s horseshit. One of the women who is most vocal about this, Lynsey Sharp, came in 6th behind Semenya. So, you eliminate Semenya from the field and come in 5th? At the expense of taking down a talented black woman for no defensible reason?
Paula Radcliff, a talented long-distance runner, has also been quite vocal on twitter and before the IAAF. Unfortunately, instead of supporting a fellow woman runner, she’s been upholding racism and misogyny herself. It’s disgusting, and something I’ve noticed seems prevalent in feminism here in the UK: the famous white feminists here have a narrow view of what it means to be a woman, and are often transphobic. It’s not a good look, UK.
So, to those supporting the IAAF rule and the CAS ruling I say this: welcome to the Asshole Hall of Fame. You’re in shit company, so you should probably do something about that.