Caster Semenya is challenging a new rule that could prevent her from competing in women’s track, but only if she has XY chromosomes.
Semenya has been tearing up the track since she first burst onto the world scene in 2009, blowing away her competition in Berlin. It was about that time when her gender came into question, as critics suggested that she “looked masculine” or was “astoundingly quick.”
She went on to win gold in both the 2012 Summer Olympics in London and the 2016 games in Rio de Janeiro.
While no medical tests have been publicly released, leaks and speculation have led many to believe that Semenya is possibly intersex — and one BBC correspondent claimed that her tests revealed testosterone levels that were three times that of the average female competitor.
The new ruling from the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF), coupled with the fact that Semenya is fighting the ruling, suggests that at least some of the speculation was accurate.
In order to comply with that ruling, female athletes with increased testosterone levels would be forced to take medication lowering those levels in order to compete as women. (RELATED: Lesbian Activist Defends ‘Biological Reality’ After Being Booted From Baltimore LGBTQ Commission)
Semenya challenged the ruling and garnered support from Democratic New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, who challenged her competition to “stop tweeting and start competing.”
A note to her competition: Stop tweeting and start competing.https://t.co/rBu3m5znmf
— Cory Booker (@CoryBooker) May 4, 2019
U.S. women’s soccer star Abby Wambach suggested that Semenya was being targeted because of her race, asking, “I wonder how i escaped this type of discrimination? Qwhite a mystery.”
— Abby Wambach (@AbbyWambach) May 4, 2019
But what many critics and media outlets are omitting entirely is that the ruling, according to a May 1 press release from the Court of Arbitration for Sport, only applies to athletes who have XY chromosomes, who are considered to be genetically male.
The DSD covered by the Regulations are limited to athletes with “46 XY DSD” – i.e. conditions where the affected individual has XY chromosomes. Accordingly, individuals with XX chromosomes are not subject to any restrictions or eligibility conditions under the DSD Regulations.
That this ruling affects Semenya’s ability to compete at all suggests that she, too, had XY chromosomes and is therefore considered by the IAAF to be genetically male.
Regardless, stories published by the Associated Press, BBC, NPR and a number of others addressed the ruling by only noting that she had been told to lower her testosterone in order to compete. They did not mention the fact that the only reason the ruling even applied to her was that she was considered to be genetically male.
Vox took the statement a step further, saying that the ruling was made specifically to target Semenya. “Many saw the rules as a direct effort to target Semenya, who is believed to have a condition that produces high testosterone,” the outlet reported.
The same article later noted that, “In denying Semenya’s appeal, the Court of Arbitration for Sport acknowledged that the IAAF testosterone regulations were discriminatory toward athletes with naturally high testosterone.” The author still failed to acknowledge that the “naturally high testosterone” being “discriminatory” in this case was the result of being born with XY chromosomes.
NY Mag contributor Jesse Singal summed up the problem with the media’s reporting on the issue, saying, “You basically cannot trust mainstream outlets anymore on any scientifically complex story that brushes up against culture-war issues.”
You basically cannot trust mainstream outlets anymore on any scientifically complex story that brushes up against culture-war issues. It’s incredibly depressing to watch standards slide but that’s where we are. Not sure what to recommend to people.
— Jesse Singal (@jessesingal) May 5, 2019