It’s not your fault, it’s not cheating but you can’t compete

There are already several athletes with natural testosterone production who are required to undergo special and invasive treatments to continue participating in World Athletics events

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Until the World Athletics Championship in London, in 2017, no one imposed a logic from their desks that today seems as rigid as it is questionable.

Until that tournament, that of the painful farewell of the enormous Usain Bolt, neither the South African Caster Semenya, nor Francine Niyonsaba, from Burundi, nor the Kenyan Margenet Wambui nor any other athlete had been banned for natural excess of testosterone, the male hormone par excellence and which, of course, is banned at certain levels.

It was forbidden as long as it was artificially induced. It is difficult to justify taking the measure when it comes to a natural genetic alteration.

The three of them had just taken the podium in the 800 meters of the London Games. More than that, Semenya had been hegemonic in the race for almost a decade - she had a temporary depression for her own emotional reasons rather than because of overcoming her rivals - a period in which she came to be questioned because of her unfeminine appearance but who was celebrated for a level of sporting excellence beyond suspicion.

Suddenly, theirs, especially Semenya’s, began to be considered by some as an unacceptable sporting advantage.

In sports, she is almost treated as a cheater. In human terms, she was required to undergo a humiliating treatment for those who, quite simply, were born that way.

In recent times, the case of Maximilla Imali, probably the best Kenyan sprinter of all time and also forced to undergo invasive treatment to lower her testosterone level, is behind what she considered regrettable. I insist. A natural condition common to many other women on the planet is being questioned.

It is argued that, if these measures were not taken, a woman would never win an athletic event again.

Are we saying that due to a genetic alteration or peculiarity a woman ceases to be a woman? What other than a woman is a person capable of giving birth? Can they have children but not compete in athletic races?

We are going through a time in which we are discussing how to resolve the situation of transgender athletes and, at the same time, are we condemning either ostracism or harassment in order to face peers?

All this, which seems like a gesture aimed at protecting fair competition, dispenses with the infinite unevenness that sports endure, for example, based on the difference in power between the richest and the poorest nations. It is no accident that the first fifteen of the last Olympic medal winners are precisely the economically most powerful countries. Nor that out of 210 delegations less than half win medals or that just over 60 get a gold medal.

Do we address certain inequalities and ignore others?

South African athlete, Caster Semenya reacts during her press conference about the upcoming case at the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights, in Johannesburg, South Africa, February 9, 2024. REUTERS/Alet Pretorius
South African athlete, Caster Semenya reacts during her press conference about the upcoming case at the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights, in Johannesburg, South Africa, February 9, 2024. REUTERS/Alet Pretorius

Finally, the memory of the confession made some time ago by Semenya’s father.

“It’s true that my daughter always preferred to play with a ball rather than a Barbie. And that she wore sneakers and sweatpants instead of heels and skirts. Also, sometimes when she answers the phone I think I hear a voice that is too thick. But, as a child, I changed her diapers many times. And I assure you that she is a woman.”