Imagine living your life as successful professional athlete. Training for something you love, competing at events, world championships, even making it to the Olympics. Imagine you win a gold medal at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio and you plan to defend that title at the summer Olympics next year. Then, imagine, all of a sudden you’re told you can no longer compete as an athlete until you change the way you were born.
That is what Caster Semenya is dealing with right now.
The double Olympic, 800m champion lost her long running battle to compete. A new rule requires women with high testosterone levels to take medication in order to compete internationally between 400m and a mile. In addition to the change, the Swiss Federal Tribune supported the decision made by the Court of Arbitration for sports. They explained that the policy for athletes with differences in sex development was necessary and proportionate to ensure fair competition in women’s sports. The tribunal claimed, “Fairness in sports is a legitimate concern.”
Now, you might be wondering what it is that Caster Semenya was born with and why would she need to change?
Semenya was born with Hyperandrogenism, which is a form of DSD (Differences in Sex Development.) DSD is a group of rare conditions involving genes, hormones, and reproductive organs. According to the National Health Service, it means a person’s development is different to most other people. In Semenya’s, case her body produces higher levels of testosterone.
Right now it is almost impossible for Semenya to defend her London 2012 and Rio 2016 titles in Tokyo next summer. In a Guardian article, Semenya remarked, “I refuse to let World Athletics drug me or stop me from being who I am.”
She also expressed that she will continue fighting for the rights of other female athletes, “Until we can run free, the way we were born.” Her, and other people like her, are required to reduce their testosterone levels to less than 5 nmol/L.
Semenya wasn’t always a gold medalist though. In 2017, at the World Championship, she was awarded a bronze medal. In 2018, at the Continental Cup, she won two different silver medals. In some earlier races, like the 2011 World Championship and the 2012 London Olympics, Semenya failed to win the gold. However, when Mariya Savinova was caught using performance enhancement drugs, the titles were turned over to Semenya.
Semenya also believes she’s being singled out for other reasons. She is openly gay and married to another competitive runner. It’s hard to know if that information is taken into consideration because she didn’t necessarily win every race.
So why is there a new rule that requires her to lower her testosterone levels?
Other athletes aren’t being looked at as much as Semenya either, even if they dominate their sport. It’s unfair that Semenya is being singled out solely because of the way she was born. She is often looked at differently by the other athletes, sometimes being called a man or being told that she resembles one. She has also been treated differently by the World Athletics Organization as a whole.
On September 8th, she tweeted, “A man can change the rules but the very same man can not rule my life,” and she’s right. In a world that is dominated mostly by men, it is important to stand up for women’s rights.
We must fight together to be equal.