JOHANNESBURG – Caster Semenya can rest safe in the knowledge she has an army of support in her challenge against the IAAF’s new female eligibility rules which are set to go into effect in November.
A group of academics have added their support to a growing list of voices opposing the rules, which look to regulate the women with naturally high levels of testosterone.
Local and international speakers this week showed their solidarity with Semenya’s fight against the athletics Goliath at a conference at the University of Pretoria, addressing women’s eligibility in sport.
The line-up included international law experts and other academics in the field of sociology and gender studies.
It included Tony Irish, vice-president of the Federation of International Cricketers, and panellists who addressed the legality of the regulations in countries such as Canada and South Korea.
Former Semenya rival turned vociferous advocate Madeleine Pape of Australia gave a nuanced view on the matter both as a former competitor and sociologist.
The IAAF introduced a new policy in April attempting to regulate women who naturally produce testosterone levels above five nanomoles per litre of blood.
For now, the regulations are limited to athletes who compete in events ranging from the 400m to the mile.
Law professor Steve Cornelius, who has been among the leading dissenting voices against the rules, organised the conference and is assisting ASA in their legal challenge.
Cornelius made headlines when he resigned from the IAAF disciplinary tribunal four months after he was appointed.
He wrote a scathing letter to the athletics body’s president Sebastian Coe, hitting out against the “antiquated views of the ‘old’ scandal-hit IAAF”.
In his closing remarks, Cornelius said the fight against the regulations held deeper implications for sport and society.
“Whatever we see in sport is reflected in society, and when people see it on the field, they think it is all right,” Cornelius said.
“And we are going to tell them it is not all right, and we set the example on the sports field so that society can follow.”
Pape raced against Semenya in the heats at the 2009 Berlin World Championships, where the South African won the global title amidst a gender verification storm.
Pape interviewed 65 athletes from the so-called global north on their views of the regulations, presented some of the anonymous comments which highlighted the divide on the issue.
“I can see in the future, women turning around and saying ‘Well, what’s the point in me taking part?
“I’m not born on a level playing field with some for these, so what’s the point? I might as well go and do something else’,” an 800m Olympic athlete told Pape.
“So at the elite level, women could start becoming few and far between.
“I mean that’s probably extreme, obviously, it might never get to that point, but it could go that way, but it could go another way.”
She said she had gone from an athlete who was “complicit in the dominant view of gender eligibility regulation in 2009 to someone that now opposes them”.
Pape, who is pursuing her PhD in sociology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, said she expected resistance from some female athletes should the IAAF’s new female eligibility rules be scrapped.
She said it was therefore important to educate athletes about the merits of the case and inform them that opposition to the regulations was not merely based on human rights but also due to flawed science.
“What I have found is, contrary to what the IAAF have argued, athletes have very diverse perspectives on this issue,” Pape said.
“It is not the case that all the women athletes I interviewed support the regulation of women with high testosterone.
“Some women are ambivalent, some certainly believe regulation is necessary, but it is a diverse group.”
She said few of the athletes she interviewed grasped the complexities of the issue while few have been provided with information about the regulations.
“What was most striking was how few people actually realised there were scientific questions about this topic,” Pape said.