© Copyright – 2017 – Athletics Illustrated
The great Irish wordsmith Oscar Fingal O’Flahertie Wills Wilde once wrote the only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about.
I can’t help but wonder if there is just a little attention-seeking going on with South African middle-distance athlete Caster Semenya. Or is she simply sticking it to everyone – especially the IAAF – for the relentless rhetoric about her natural physical condition?
She may be either angry at the world or is starting to enjoy drawing attention to herself; the former is the lesser of the two evils.
During the 2012 London Olympic Games 800-metre final, it was suggested by many that she eased up to not win (earned silver) and therefore not draw attention to herself. Perhaps she has grown out of that shyness. After the Rio Olympic final, she stood on the track defiant and stared dead-pan into the cameras. It was as if she was saying,”go ahead, make my day.”
Earlier this week, it was announced that she will not only run the 800-metre distance during the 2017 IAAF London World Track and Field Championships, she will also run the 1500-metre event. This announcement has caused an additional stir.
Semenya is apparently intersex. Non-official medical records indicate that she produces a significantly higher concentration of testosterone over women who are not intersex. In 2015, the governing body of track and field, the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF), according to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), had not adequately proven that endogenously (naturally occurring) elevated testosterone is a performance enhancer.
Apparently, after the Rio Olympic Games, the IAAF commissioned a study that is now peer-reviewed and published that proves there is indeed an advantage. Researchers measured blood testosterone levels in 1,332 female athletes competing across 21 track and field disciplines at the 2011 and 2013 world championships. Those with the highest levels of testosterone demonstrated significant advantages over those with the lowest levels. In the 800m event, the advantage was measured to be 1.8% faster. The next step by the IAAF will be to impress upon the CAS that this is indeed the case.
Semenya identifies as female. She is defiant in the face of growing media attention about her choice to compete against female athletes. It is likely that upon hearing of the published study, she decided at that time that the Worlds in London this August will be her final stand. Her last chance to win in a global championships – why not grasp at a second gold medal and deliciously stare into the cameras one more time? She can hardly be blamed.
It is not her fault; she was born this way, so the debacle is very complicated and sensitive.
She already has raised the attention of current and former athletes who voice their concern that Semenya does not race full-out, yet every time that she toes-the-line, she wins. To many, this is anecdotal evidence that she enjoys an unfair advantage.
By adding the 1500-metre distance, she may draw a firestorm of attention – especially if she takes a medal – and will likely hasten the process to have her testosterone production reduced through medication, therefore cementing her fate.
She may win and if she does, she will be spelling the end of her international career at London 2017.
The IAAF and the International Olympic Committee are in a bad publicity way due to rampant drug use, bribery, extortion and the negative effects of global championships’ white elephants in third world countries – legacies that leave financially weak nations scrambling to recover for years after.
The two bodies (as well as FIFA, but that is another story) can’t afford any more negative publicity. This one will require a genius move to resolve the matter fairly and equitable for all.
The old advertising adage that there is no such thing as bad publicity, doesn’t apply here. The IAAF will have to tread lightly and prove thoroughly and convincingly that options may be available to intersex athletes – such as an intersex category – removing her from the women’s competitions or forcing medical intervention, will require some form of brilliance.
London may be an opportunity for Semenya to force the IAAF’s hand and a side benefit – perhaps one she may not yet be aware of is – she may invoke something dubbed the ‘Semenya Rule’, where intersex athletes compete in their own event, thereafter.
Perhaps that will become her motive. And that is a legacy-accomplishment worth being talked about.