Should athletes be excluded for having a natural advantage?

semenyaShe’s very, very fast. And she’s very, very fit. But is ‘she’ really a she? And do we have the right to demand an answer to that question?

18 year old Caster Semenya has gone from relative anonymity to being discussed around the world after some lightning fast performances on the track in recent times, and winning the 800m in one minute and 55.45 seconds at the World Championships in Berlin yesterday.

But questions are now being asked about the new world champ – very personal questions that go right to the heart of just who Semenya is.

The International Association of Athletics Federations says it has asked the South African athlete to take a gender test amid fears she should not be able to run as a woman.

Blogs have sprung up unashamedly speculating about Semenya’s physiology. This blogger – who’s also running a poll on the issue – says Semenya should be stripped of her medal if it’s determined that she was not born female, and says “women have a right in sports to compete against other biologically born women because it’s the right thing to do.”

But this commentator believes the story has become ugly, and says questioning an athlete’s gender is more offensive than a doping accusation.

This person raises some interesting questions: “what are the results going to tell us? What would they mean? If Semenya is intersexed, should she compete as a man or a woman?”

WHYS also has some questions to add: many female athletes have higher levels of testosterone anyway, so where is the cut-off point for what is an acceptable ‘natural advantage’? Is it fair that Semenya is being asked to undergo gender testing? In sports which reward speed, size and strength – traditionally male attributes – is it any wonder that some female athletes don’t look like some people’s ideal of a female body type? And if Castor is indeed intersexed, how much of an advantage would that actually bring?

31 Responses to “Should athletes be excluded for having a natural advantage?”

  1. 1 Samuel
    August 20, 2009 at 10:32

    In world where a level ground is a prerequisit, it is fair to demand for a test so that none of the competitors has an unfair advantage over the others, I guess that is the reason for the dop tests. In Semanya’s case it would certainly be absurd if turned out that “she is not a she but a he” competeing as she, that would be outright cheating…wouldn’t it? If she turns out to be intersexed then well we create a category for such people…it may well be time to do that in recognition of the fact that there are such people who should not be denied the right to compete.

  2. 2 Deryck/Trinidad
    August 20, 2009 at 10:33

    “Athlete gender testing: Fair request? Or unnecessary humiliation?”

    In the world of sports it is a fair question since in 2006 an Indian runner at the Asian Games in Doha, Qatar Santhi Soudarajan was made to take a gender test after winning silver in the 800m. She failed the test and was stripped of the medal. So in all fairness to maintain the integrity of the sport a gender test should be done.

    Here’s the story http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2006/12/18/sportsline/main2275607.shtml

  3. August 20, 2009 at 11:24

    I exhausted trying to maintain the integrity of sports. Everyone takes performance enhancing drugs. I don’t care if top pro cyclists oxygenate their blood, or footballers take steroids, or swimmers wear super slippery swim suits. They are all grownups playing GAMES.

    Good rules make good games… that’s true. However, I don’t think testing blood chemistry or gender testing should be in the rules of any game.

  4. 4 Keith
    August 20, 2009 at 11:39

    They should have tested her prior to her racing if they were concerned about it. They should not be testing her gender after her racing. It’s very unprofessional for them to be doing this. If they think her gender should be tested they should make a mental note of this and next time there is a race they should test someones gender who looks possibly a male who is posing as female and they should do this before the races begin. Even though they think her gender should be tested they shouldnt test because it is after the races and it is too humiliating of a thing to do to someone. Whoever made the decision to test her gender should lose their job.

  5. 5 Ibrahim in UK
    August 20, 2009 at 12:02

    I’m surprised it’s not considered sexist:
    “you’re so good you must be a man”

    Gender test everyone or introduce mixed-gender athletics.
    In an era of gender “equality”, why are the sexes still seggregated at sports anyway?

    • 6 Julie in Indianapolis Indiana
      August 20, 2009 at 16:04

      I totally agree. Doping is completely different than questioning someone’s gender. If a man lost a race by a great distance would we ask him to take a gender test to prove he is not a woman and somehow pretend that question is not sexist? No. Not in a million years. So why do it to a woman when she wins? It is absurd that the question was raised to begin with; and to be insulted as such on an international stage as well. For shame. I thought we were well beyond the days of stockings and bonnets.

  6. 7 Deryck/Trinidad
    August 20, 2009 at 12:29

    @Ibrahim in UK

    In an era of gender “equality”, why are the sexes still seggregated at sports anyway?

    I would love to hear feminists answer that question.

  7. 8 patti in cape coral
    August 20, 2009 at 12:52

    I know nothing of sports, but I assumed the genders were separated at sports because our physiology is different enough to make competing against each other pointless and inherently unfair. Isn’t that the same reason boxers are categorized by weight? As far as gender testing, I honestly have no idea. Traditionally, who brings in faster running times, men, or women? I thought in general, lighter people would be faster regardless of sex, but men do tend to have more muscle, and more muscle means more power.

  8. 9 VictorK
    August 20, 2009 at 12:59

    Test by all means, but with the utmost discretion given that the athlete in question may be innocent.

    If the IAAF went public with their doubts and their intention to test then they are, if Caster Semenya is indeed a woman, beneath contempt for publicly humiliating and slandering her. In which case I hope she sues.

  9. 11 Vijay Pillai
    August 20, 2009 at 13:12

    There was a similar doubt in tamil nadu when a woman won an asian event and proved wrong. In this case if she was celebrating like normal woman winning an even as natural reaction and if that aspect is missing,one has to doubt and ,in any case several women in limelight look more than men,for god sake these women repel my eyes,who want to look at bodybuilding type exposing all the blood vessels except if one want to shape up to win an event like this.

  10. 12 Linda from Italy
    August 20, 2009 at 13:35

    If Caster is so fast she “can’t possibly be a woman” and must be genetically tested, perhaps we should be testing the Bolt of Lightning, just in case he’s got a Martian chromosome in there somewhere which debars him from human competition?!
    Seriously though, this girl has been treated appallingly, as another celebrated athlete has pointed out (World Today) in drug testing, people remain anonymous until the B sample has tested positive and this is not doping but an accident of nature. It is a chromosomal anomaly that doesn’t make her a “man” in any other sense.
    Way back in the 70’s certain eastern Bloc countries exploited this anomaly (as the precursor to doping) but this was fully conscious state-sponsored cheating and I very much doubt this is the case with SA – they have more pressing things to worry about.
    I shudder to think what this poor kid must be and will continue to go through and the ramifications this will have for her future, as a normal member of society, particularly coming from such a macho culture, just don’t bear thinking about. How dare the “sporting” authorities have made this into a public spectacle? Never mind gender-testing, they should be sanity/humanity tested!
    The only solution is to test every female athlete who enters international-level competitions, discreetly and without any hoo-ha, and while any find to have this chromosome imbalance will have to withdraw, they at least won’t have been subjected to this public pillorying.

  11. August 20, 2009 at 13:55

    Interesting but the question is: What if she was born Intersexed raised as a boy and she decided to become a girl/woman she is now?

  12. 14 Rob (UK)
    August 20, 2009 at 14:21

    A person may well be psychologically female but genetically male due to various encrinological disorders. If sprinting were a psychological feat, it wouldn’t be an issue, but it’s a biological feat. Therefore it is possible for someone to have an advantage.

    We know that people with particular ethnicities have an advantage when it comes to other kinds of sport, but we don’t segregate 1500m races into Kenyans and non-Kenyans. But seeing as we segregate male and female runners, we must make sure that those who don’t fall into either of these groups are not permitted to compete.

  13. 15 patti in cape coral
    August 20, 2009 at 14:37

    I agree with Keith that the testing should be done before competing, especially if this is something that has come up before, they cannot plead ignorance. It should also be discreet (ha).

  14. 16 Jennifer
    August 20, 2009 at 15:41

    This is the type of thing that happens when you let men become women and and vice versa….. I would personally be very offended if someone mistook me for a man. However, it would be unfair to those women who were naturally female if they were competing against a man.

  15. 18 James Turner
    August 20, 2009 at 16:20

    Of course not! We must not allow our lives to be run by fear of an unknown!

  16. 19 James Turner
    August 20, 2009 at 16:34

    “This is the type of thing that happens when you let men become women and and vice versa…..” Jennifer I saw this and had to comment.

    We are not letting anyone do this! We don’t own the them! This is a choice we must allow them to make. Like you are allowed to pick the car you want to drive. Because we live in an interconnected society they must allow us to do things they might disagree with!!!!

  17. 20 Nelson Isibor
    August 20, 2009 at 16:49

    There is nothing wrong in asking questions when in doubt . What speculation does is to fuel the rumour mills, so when the results of the gender taste are back, we can pick it up from there however the way the whole thing is being conducted leaves a sour taste in the mouth.

  18. 21 KC (Uk)
    August 20, 2009 at 19:17

    Sports is fast becoming a eugenics breeding ground. The requirements for most athletes is that they are tall and strong. Surely the next doping phenomenon will be gene doping.

  19. 22 Akhator peter
    August 20, 2009 at 19:40

    I think it is very unfair on caster trying to spoil her fun, would she had been under such suspicion if she had lost? From nigeria

  20. 23 Tom K in Mpls
    August 20, 2009 at 20:42

    As genetic advancements occur, this will become more of a real question. Right now I feel it is little more than a joke. But it is only logical that genetic treatment will be able to change pretty much everything ( natural growth times will apply ), including muscle or bone structure, even to reversing/stopping aging.

  21. 24 Steve in Boston
    August 20, 2009 at 22:02

    Everyone should get a trophy and be done with it. All this athletic competition is only damaging peoples’ self-esteem and encouraging aggression. It’s a barbaric vestige of the 20th century.

  22. 26 helen in usa
    August 20, 2009 at 22:28

    Whether it’s from “knowing someone”or having the money to do something in any aspect of life,like being the child of someone in the entertainment field or being put through an Ivy League school,there are innumerable cases where people do well or very well because “they have an advantage”. Artists and musicians or a gifted mathematics student,can or do have a natural ability. In this world of accomplishments in the medical industry that are as frightening as any science fiction I’ve ever read,unnatural abilities do exist and in the case of anyone who is filmed or photographed,”unnatural advantages”are the rule,not the exception. If this athlete is tested I would be interested in who is doing the testing and where it is. If the athlete may be less than honest I wouldn’t exclude the motives of anyone involved in wanting to test her for also being less than honest,also.

  23. 27 T
    August 21, 2009 at 01:10

    Ideally yes. But keep in mind we live in corporate , litigious world. many athletes have agents, managers and attorneys. If you test them, it can be a long, drawn out process that can mean bad PR for the Olympics and many sports governing bodies.

  24. 28 Dennis Junior
    August 21, 2009 at 03:05

    No, I think that athletes should not be excluding from having a natural advantages; But, I think we questions arise regarding an athlete then the authorities in the proper Sport Body should investigate…

    =Dennis Junior=

  25. 29 David
    August 21, 2009 at 17:59

    If I were that humiliated and turned out to be what I am. I would not sue for less than a $1 billion.

  26. 30 Ras
    August 24, 2009 at 14:31

    I firmly disagree with the notion that people should be disqualified for a natural advantage; isn’t that the very basis on which competition is built? That some people are gifted, more talented, naturally? Would you disqualify someone who has OCD and needs to overachieve therefore trains too hard? It makes no sense at all because at the end of the day, if she were to be the fastest woman in the world, then we ought to celebrate her’s and mankind’s achievement.

    As for whether or not she actually has an advantage, I wonder if it has it been scientifically proven that it is indeed a significant one? From my medical knowledge, the fact that she appears to be a woman means that the effect her high levels of testosterone have on her virilisation should be low.

    Essentially, I feel it’s unfair to tell her her genes are what made her the athlete she is today because I’ve met several girls diagnosed with the same condition, and they’re far from having the determination, discipline and spirit that Ms Semenya possesses to become the sportswoman that she is. Having been raised a woman, it would be emotionally devastating to have one’s realities shaken the way hers could be if her tests reveal a male genotype. I think she only needs compassion.

  27. 31 Ras
    August 27, 2009 at 16:49

    who is to say whether or not tomorrow we’ll be able to pinpoint even more genetic reasons for some women to have higher testosterone that the average. as it is, most atheletes already have high levels of this hormone and they’re probably genetically predisposed in some way or another, the fundamental reason there’s sport is to challenge the human race, to push ourselves to our limits and these women, naturally are the limits.

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