Semenya’s hormones are still an issue

Caster Semenya (AP)
Caster Semenya (AP)

Johannesburg - Caster Semenya is destined to be remembered in the history of sport as the woman who changed an era, whichever way her story ends.

In 2009, she was publically shamed because her femininity was not convincing enough.

She had dominated the 800m at the World Championships in Berlin, but she was then made – by the International Association of Athletics Federations – to take hormones to lower her natural testosterone levels, which had made her a Ferrari racing against Mickey Mouse cars.

While taking the medication, she won the silver medal at the Olympic Games in London, a medal that should now be gold because of the retrospective disqualification of Russia’s Mariya Savinova.

But, two years ago, the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) ruled that Semenya could stop taking the hormones, which were artificially limiting her “engine”, because science had not yet convincingly demonstrated that higher levels of natural testosterone had obvious benefits.

This claim was seen as blasphemy by some, and is a matter that is now being re-examined by the CAS, with new results expected in the next few months.

Meanwhile, at the Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm, a group of female volunteers are being subjected to experiments looking into the benefits of taking synthetic testosterone to improve performance.

This experiment is crucial, and it is one that may ultimately lead to the need for sports to identify a third gender.

At this point, only time will tell whether it is more appropriate to force female athletes with excess testosterone to take medication and return to the so-called standard, or create a new opportunity that officially acknowledges the existence of a third reality; a third gender – one that is already officially recognised in some countries.

Merlo is AIPS president. This article first appeared on the AIPS website

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