Olympic Games | The Guardian
C.hristine Mboma runs the 200 meters like no other elite sprinter in history. Your start is slow. Your drive phase needs work. But then her legs start to whir … and suddenly hiss! One, two, three, four opponents are sorted out. At the Olympics, she flew from fifth place 50 meters from the end and won a silver medal. Last week she also secured the Diamond League title in a U20 world record of 21.78 seconds. What makes the performance of the 18-year-old remarkable, besides her age, is that she only focused on the 200m in July.
With time and better technique, Florence Griffith Joyner’s world record of 21.34 seconds will fall. But Mboma is also increasingly facing a devilish hook-22. The faster she runs, the more she proves that she has an unfair advantage as an athlete with differences in gender development (DSD). Francine Niyonsaba, who won the women’s 5,000m Diamond League final, faces a similar dilemma.
Mboma and Niyonsaba, who have already been forced to switch from their favorite events, the 400m and 800m respectively, could face further heartache and limitations. Meanwhile, World Athletics has a big headache. And the rest of us face a minefield of scientific, ethical, and legal issues – essentially Caster Semenya redux.
It was, of course, Semenya who failed her challenge against controversial rules that prevented athletes with a DSD from running between 400m and a mile in international events unless they were taking medication to lower their testosterone levels.
But while the Sports Arbitration Tribunal made headlines around the world in the Semanya case, its 163-page rationale that surfaced months later never made it into the mainstream. However, a return visit reminds us of what is at stake.
The decisive factor was that Cas decided that 46 XY-DSD athletes “enjoy a considerable athletic advantage … compared to 46 XX athletes without such a DSD” due to their biology.
It found that 46 XY 5-ARD individuals have male testes but do not produce enough of a hormone called DHT, which is essential for the formation of male external genitalia, resulting in “no typical sex at birth”.
It added, however, “Individuals with 5-ARD have what is commonly referred to as male chromosomal sex (XY and not XX), male gonads (testes, not ovaries), and circulating testosterone levels in the male range (7.7-29.4 nmol / L), which are well above the female range (0.06-1.68 nmol / L). “
Experts on both sides also agreed that there are other benefits, including “greater lean body mass, larger hearts, higher cardiac output … and a larger V02 maximum than 46 XX people”.
Yes, World Athletics’ DSD rules were discriminatory, Cas finally decided. However, they were justified in order to provide fair competition to women with normal testosterone levels.
In a nuanced summary, however, she emphasized her admiration for DSD athletes who, as one expert noted, “often appear feminine at birth and are raised feminine,” and a significant discomfort about the way testosterone would have to be measured when they would have to take medication. “This is an issue where sane and informed minds can legitimately be different,” she added.
These opinions are certainly different at the moment. Some Mboma rivals, including 400m gold medalist Shaunae Miller-Uibo, have wondered why the restrictions are “just a few events and not nationwide.” But there are many who don’t want any restrictions at all, who find it appalling to encourage athletes to take medication, and want sport to recognize that society is becoming more gender neutral.
Basically, the argument boils down to whether you value fairness or inclusivity more. In any case, critics on both sides believe that World Athletics’ current policies are ineffective.
Then there is the Tucker Paradox raised by Semenya’s attorney at Cas. “The basic premise of the World Athletics guidelines is that testosterone gives men an advantage over women,” explained Prof. Ross Tucker, who testified on behalf of Athletics South Africa. “That is undeniably true of the shot put, which lasts less than a second, as well as the marathon, which lasts thousands of seconds. However, his policy only covers between 400 meters and a mile. That makes no sense. There is a discrepancy between the principle of World Athletics and its politics. “
He’s right. Much of this goes back to the 2016 case of Indian sprinter Dutee Chand, after which Cas ruled that it would be discriminatory for World Athletics to require all athletes with DSD to take medication unless there is further evidence. Due to the over-representation of athletes with DSD over 400m and 800m, World Athletics decided to focus only on these disciplines and the 1500m and mile. However, this was based on controversial research that has since proven to be “misleading”.
And so this topic rumbles for many good reasons, not least because – as Cas noted in the Semenya case – it is about incompatible and competing rights.
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“Put simply, there is on the one hand the right of every athlete to compete in sport, to have their legal gender and gender identity respected and to be free from any form of discrimination,” it said.
“On the other hand, the right of women athletes who are biologically relevant disadvantaged compared to male athletes to compete against other athletes and to achieve the advantages of athletic success.”
Cas also opened the door to World Athletics to restrict more events than calling the policy a “living document”. Since Semenya’s calling is still ongoing, it will not happen yet. But if you do, the best sports lawyers in the world are sure to take note.