Caster Semenya  File photo: AP
Caster Semenya File photo: AP

Caster ruling: It's about chemistry and not emotion

By Mark Keohane Time of article published May 3, 2019

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Caster Semenya is an inspiration. She is loved.

Of that there is no doubt. To try to have a Caster discussion often doesn’t get past introducing her name because of the emotion attached to her situation.

To agree with the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) ruling, that she must take medication to lower her testosterone levels if she is to compete in the 800m, has been viewed as unpatriotic.

Many South Africans believe it is a conspiracy against Caster. The feeling is that she has been targeted because of her dominance at 800m. She is a symbol of someone who fought prejudice and triumphed. Her dignity was attacked and she stood tall throughout. Again, she stands the tallest amid the controversy.

Caster is to be admired for the class she has shown in dealing with everything thrown her way.

South Africans have taken the ruling personally. It is as if a nation has been attacked, but that is inaccurate. When we strip away all the emotion there is so much merit to the ruling. It’s the application of the ruling that is debatable.

Some would ask how Caster’s testosterone advantage can be such that she can’t compete in the 800m but negligible enough for her to run the 1500m and 5000m.

The Daily Mail’s Martin Samuel wrote this week that there could be no joy or victory in the ruling, but that it was right for the IAAF to continue its stand for women’s sport and that, reluctantly, it was right that testosterone levels should continue being a determining factor.

He quoted sports scientist Ross Tucker as saying that suppressing the level of naturally produced testosterone would reduce Caster’s 800m time by seven seconds.

Samuel concluded that testosterone levels in women’s sport did matter if it could significantly differentiate in performance and that was why women’s sport needed protection.

What I found revealing was the statistical data in the article, showing that a good teenage male club athlete would win an Olympic standard women’s event.

He identified Woodford Green and Essex Ladies AC, which hasn’t been in the top three of British Athletics League since 2012. Despite this, the best times recorded by boys in the under-17 age group would have won the women’s gold in the 2016 Olympics at 100m, 200m, 400m, 800m and 1500m.

Woodford’s Canaan Solomon, the 10th best 800m runner in Britain, would have beaten Caster’s 2016 Olympic winning time in Rio by 3.26 seconds. He’d be more than eight seconds inside it. That’s the importance of testosterone. It is about chemistry and not emotion.

Samuel asked why athletes weren’t allowed to take testosterone legally if there were no advantage in testosterone.

Caster will rightly appeal the ruling, but there needs to be calm and education about the specifics related to the IAAF decision. This isn’t as simple as the world is anti-Caster.

Much of world opinion favours Caster’s right to compete. The ruling isn’t the end of the subject. Take some time to look at it unemotionally and be less ignorant and more informed.

It is what I want to say to Stellenbosch University’s ethics committee who outrageously condoned and supported the most disgusting of papers on the supposed cognitive behaviour of coloured women in South Africa.

How the institution could entertain, yet allow, such prejudice defies belief. It was the most disgraceful of acts that gives more answers to the leadership at Stellenbosch University than it asks questions. It is something that should never have happened, let alone ever be defended in the name of research.

Keohane is an award-winning sports journalist and the head of sport at Independent Media

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