Sport Isn't Fair, So Why Try Make It Fair - Debate on Caster Semenya
I will start this article off with a few thought provoking questions.
Is it unfair that good basketball players are born with the genetics to be tall?
Is it unfair that Michael Phelps has longer arms with feet and hands like shovels?
Is it fair that the more expensive a bike is the chances are you can cycle faster?
I had a conversation with a group of athletes in America about creating the perfect human. A designer baby. We talked about me having Cystic Fibrosis, a clear genetic disadvantage and if my parents would have decided not to have me knowing that I would be born with CF. These comments don’t upset or effect me. I think it’s a healthy conversation to have (excuse the pun). CF is a genetic disease in which it effects the control of salt at a cellular level, meaning that it will effect every organ in the body. On the other hand, Castor Semanya was born with a clear genetic advantage for an athlete. I was also asked, “would you be happy if your sister was to compete against it”.
Just as a little preface for those of you who don’t know Castors story. Castor was born with Hyperandrogenism, which is a medical condition characterised by elevated levels male sex hormones such as testosterone in the female body. She underwent a gender test in 2011 which was asked by IAAF.
As i said, Castor was born genetically better for sport, and I was born genetically worse.
The great debate has been as follows,
Should she compete in the mens race?
Should she not be allowed to compete? (which was already done from 2009 to 2010 for 11 moths)
Should she be given hormone replacement therapy to lower her levels of testosterone? (this is what is being debated at the moment)
I think it comes down to a human rights issue. In fact, when she was suspended from the sport from the IAAF, it was unruled by the CAS as a human rights issue.
Lets look at her personal best
400m - 50.40 (the World Record is 47.60)
800m - 1.55.27 (the WR is 1.53.28)
1500m - 4.01.59 (the WR is 3.50.07)
As you can see, Castor is a bit off every WR
Now lets compare her times to the mens WRs.
400m - 43.03 (7s slower)
800m - 1.40.91 (15s slower)
1500m - 3.26.00 (35s slower)
So, she’s slower then every WR in the women section and a considerable distance behind the Mens WR. In fact, if she was to compete against male junior athletes in Ireland, she still wouldn’t win.
Now, heres a topic where people haven’t looked at.
The physiological differences between white athletes and black athletes. In a study, "white men lose about 2.5 percent of their bone mass every year. Blacks lose less than one percent. Loss of bone mass speeds up greatly under conditions of weightlessness, so blacks could probably survive longer space voyages than whites.”.
There is also countless studies shown that black men have more testosterone then white men.
Black people have lower levels of White Blood Cells (hence their propensity to Sickle Cell Anaemia - which is actually an advantage if you are in the African jungle because you are more resistant to Malaria) which is a clear genetic disadvantage (if you aren’t in a Malaria ridden jungle). There is also a differences between Western African people to Eastern African people. Western Africans have a great muscle mass, hence why they are generally better at sprinting. Whereas Eastern Africans are generally leaner which is an advantage to distance running.
Furthermore, Western Africans were captured and used as slaves in the Caribbean countries and into the Americans. Hence why Caribbean countries tend to be better sprinters. Jamaica are the powerhouse of sprinters with only a population of 2.8 million. Jamaica was the last stop of the slave ships. Meaning, if you survived that length of time, you were the fittest and strongest slaves.
From looking at the last World Championships, 14 medals out of 18 gold medals were won by black athletes, compared to 4 gold medals out of 18 won by white athletes. The reason that I am segregating the two races is to show you the differences between white athletes to black athletes. I know part of it is down to will to win, coaching, etc etc but you can clearly see that people who are black are suited for running in comparison to people who are white. Since 1983, African born athletes have won the 5000m in mens, and in the women since 2003 (the Women 5000m was introduced in 1995 - Szabo from Romania won it twice and Sonia O Sullivan won it once). Since the IAAF World Championships started in 1983, the 100m has been won by black athletes in the mens, and 12 out of 16 women titles were black athletes. Anyway, i think you get my drift on this point. I just needed to back it up!!
Is it a case that Castor should undergo Hormone Replacement Therapy to make it fair to everyone else who wasn’t born as genetically gifted in this event, or is it a case where everyone else in the event needs to look at their training methods/environment and train smarter.
I think if the IAAF decide to make her take HRT for Castor to compete, then where will it stop. Should it be illegal for people who go altitude training, because it’s an unfair advantage to those who cannot afford to shell out a few thousand euro. I can get petty and bring up sponsorship deals, as the better you are the better your contract will be. Meaning financial freedom. What about massages? People cannot afford daily or every second day massages. A great example of competing in sport and being unfair is Sean Hehir. He is a full time teacher who starts his day before the sun comes up. Gets his first run of the day in before work starts. Leaves the school around 4 (but still has to do correcting at home and prepare for the next day). Gets his second run in and then its time for bed. 100+ miles a week with no financial support from sponsors or from the governing body in Ireland. Yet he has to compete against professional athletes at the major championships. Seems unfair as well!
Castors competitors such as Melissa Bishop has stated that “these girls are competing just like we are” in response to her 5th place finish behind Castor at the World Championships and 4th place in the Olympics.
Where as Lindsey Sharp has a different view saying ““The public can see how difficult it is with the change of rule, but all we can do is give it our best.”
And finally, the ironic views of Russia's Mariya Savinova said “Just look at her," - Savinova actually tested positive for using steroids.
The next move from the IAAF is a very important one. It can open a lot of floodgates both from an ethical and moral standpoint. I think the reason behind the commotion is because Castor doesn’t fit the stereotype on a what the Western World calls feminine. I hope this article has made a change in the way you see this topic.
At the end of the day, we need to be respectful of Castor as she is a human and to label a human as an “it” is horrific and degrading. The way I see it is that sport isn’t fair so why try make it fair.
Take a look at this great documentary on Castor Semenya. A great watch.