Caster Semenya

Caster Semenya has lost her appeal to the athletics authorities who now say she has to use drugs before she is able to compete in her chosen events.

Personally, I think this is a travesty. She has done nothing wrong. She is being penalised for her physical makup. Isn’t it the physical makeup, along with training which makes athletes what they are.

Lets, for arguments sake take the swimmer, Ian Thorpe who had size 17 feet. Would that not be considered an advantage over the rest with more normal sized feet?

I agree it’s a shame for her, but she is without doubt not a ‘normal’ female. Without getting into the details she has a medical condition that gives her a build & strength that is not normal in a female.
The sexes have always been separated in all the physical sports, its now been recognised that there are some unfortunate people who do not conform & its most unfortunate that Caster is the first to be selected on this new ruling. I suspect this is not the end of it.

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Define ‘normal’?

A large number of elite athletes are naturally physiological outliers. Basketball players don’t represent typical median height ranges and some have had growth hormone abnormalities that have made them that tall, or indeed have genetic syndromes. What about long jumpers and sprinters with abnormally high levels of fast twitch muscle? Gymnasts with hypermobility that would be considered pathological-but is an advantage for their sport. They all have genetic advantages. Some also have more subtle advantages-for example elite athletes may have super efficient hearts, high levels of muscle mitochondria or naturally higher EPO levels even before they train. What about males with naturally higher than average testosterone? Should they be told to take medication? More than one elite athlete has been found to have a testosterone secreting tumour giving them an advantage when high levels were detected on a doping test. Should they be banned?

I think this whole thing is really tough on her, and one of the big problems is that the science is actually not that clear. Is it all about testosterone levels? Would correcting them at this age/stage actually level things out or has she benefited from elevated levels during her growth and development such that her ‘difference’ is more pervasive?

Her DSD (disorder of sexual difference) still defines her as female. Is it normal? It is not a ‘disease’ and it is not doping. We actually don’t know if she is a special athlete who happens to have DSD or if it gives her a big advantage. The ruling today (which suggests that this may only be an issue in a specific range of race distances) shows how ignorant we are.

Really messy situation, and one where I think the ethics are actually very subtle and the facts are not especially established. Incidentally she is not the first just the most well known. There are a number of known DSD athletes competing now and have been many before.

Won’t be the last either, ‘genetic doping’ where genes are deliberately manipulated to maximise future performance is not far way. Now that is a can of worms!


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I agree with @Mike-B. Perhaps a better solution would be to handicap her like in horse racing, or make her run some extra yards rather than make take drugs?

Well stated - a number from the Indian sub-continent and Asia are known about, and I expect will publicly cited now this case has aired.

That could potentially ‘work’ in sprints (up to 400m) or in jumping and throwing events. However, it would not be a solution in running distances from 800m upwards in which major competition races (without pacemakers) tend to be tactical with a relatively slow initial pace and a sprint finish.

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Good point … should have thought it thru’ For each distance

I find it interesting that those that have an issue with having that extra Y chromosome are other females. The ladies need to suck it up. It is of course more complicated than that - with some folk being XXY, XYY, XXX and XYX !!

I think that your comment is a bit unfair.

I believe evidence suggesting that there is a direct correlation between naturally occurring testosterone in female athletes and performance is not uniformly accepted. However, one fact remains and this is that Caster Semenya’s highly elevated testosterone level does provide her with a very significant advantage over other female athletes. I may be wrong, but I very much suspect that if any leading female athlete were to artificially increase her testosterone levels in order to approach the levels in Semenya’s body then she would probably be banned from athletics for life.

As many others have pointed out, Caster Semenya herself has done nothing wrong and so I feel very sorry for the position in which she finds herself. However, in order to be fair to the vast majority of female athletes, there has to be some level of control in womens’ athletics.


It’s not a definition of normal we’re talking about, it’s the maximum level of normal. There are others in her field that have extremely high levels of testosterone and apparently they’re all going to have to be subject to the maximum level limit. I don’t see a problem. She could always enter the men’s race, but then she would moan that that’s unfair, because of their levels.

Ridiculous isn’t it.

Yes she has high levels of testosterone which help her run faster. So what? That’s genetics.

Maybe they should ban tall people from the high jump, black athletes from sprinting and all Africans from long distance running.

It really isn’t as simple as that.

What if another female athlete appears on the scene with significantly higher still levels of testosterone - perhaps levels of testosterone that are almost on a par with that of some male athletes and perhaps producing times that are almost on a par with top male athletes. Should this person also be allowed to compete against female athletes with normal levels of testosterone in major athletics events?

Where is the line to be drawn? Should it be at the levels now proposed by athletics authorities which will have the effect of excluding Semenya unless she undergoes testosterone reducing therapy?; should it be at a level that just allows Caster Semenya to compete but no higher; should it be at a significantly higher level in order to accommodate athletes who might come on to the scene in the future?; should there be no testosterone level control in womens’ athletics at all?; Then how do we determine that levels of testosterone in female athletes are naturally produced and not artificially increased by some underhand means? Does this even matter?

Perhaps all athletic competition should be open to all and we should open womens’ athletics to all, or at least to anyone who identifies him/her self as female? This is not straightforward and not a simple matter of genetics. It is a personal as well as a political and competition control minefield.

You seem to be making my point for me!

I don’t think so!

Do you believe that there should be no controls whatsoever in athletics competition?

Do you believe that the criterion for entering female athletics competition should simply be that an athlete identifies as female regardless of physical attributes and specifically in respect of testosterone levels ?

The link between testosterone and performance is not simple, and far from proven or understood in athletes with DSD as opposed to straight doping.

I absolutely agree that there are differences of opinion in respect of the link between testosterone and performance. However, I come back to the point I have just made above. Do you believe that there should be no controls whatsoever in female athletics or even just no controls whatsoever in respect of testosterone levels specifically?

Do you think that such a position would be fair to most who compete in womens’ athletics?

I think, as you seem to infer, that drawing lines based on their genes is very hard.

However, if you are going to do so, then why stop at the athlete’s chemical composition? Shouldn’t you then also consider banning those with particularly long legs?

This discussion is interesting. Perhaps there should be a classification system much like the Paralympics. I appreciate that even there it is difficult to assign athletes to a particular class.
For example transgender athletes would have their appropriate class, as would DSD athletes.
Of course this would make life difficult for organisers who would want to reduce the number of sports at championships, which would be a shame …

I have no idea how it can be done. I just wanted in my first post to move it beyond this one woman.

However it is not fair now and never has been. I have no solution really but I do think it should be evidence based where possible and transparent. I am not sure her case has met these criteria and I do think that a bit of prejudice and prurience has been part of how it has been reported too


I think that your reply is maybe just a little facetious, but I will answer your question and hopefully you will answer mine. No - I don’t think that athletes (male or female) with particularly long legs should be banned from competing.

My question is: are you of the opinion that no restriction on levels (no matter how high) of testosterone should be applied in womens’ athletics?