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The International Association of Athletics Federations recently ruled that Caster Semenya cannot race in the 800m at the upcoming Olympics (and other internationally sanctioned competitive events) with other women unless she limits her testosterone levels.
The ruling is based upon Semenya's elevated testosterone levels. Despite the fact that her hormone levels are naturally occurring, the IAAF court found that elevated levels of testosterone in female athletes creates an unfair advantage. Their ruling fully recognized that it is discriminatory, however, the panel stated that the rule to limit testosterone levels is "reasonable, necessary and proportionate."
The IAAF's decision is premised on the fact that female-only athletic competitions are designed to provide female athletes with fair competition, and high levels of testosterone have been scientifically found to provide athletes an advantage in certain sports. This is due to the fact that testosterone helps the body to produce muscles and does other things in the body that are good for athletes. Recent research shows that certain Olympic events, like the 800m, hammer throw and shot-put, are greatly influenced by testosterone levels. Notably, a decade ago, the same body cleared Semenya to race.
While women do produce testosterone naturally, men produce much more. Semenya's numbers are reportedly below the average male’s numbers, but well above those of other women. Though her genetics may not be any of anybody's business but her own, it has been revealed that, biologically, she is intersex. This has prompted quite a bit of discussion about where intersex individuals fit in the binary athletics scheme.
Though society, in general, is now striving to celebrate the differences between individuals, for Semenya and other athletes, the IAAF's decision isn't something to celebrate. The final result is that if Semenya wants to continue to compete on that level, she must take medication to limit her testosterone production. This stands in stark contrast to how beloved swimmer Michael Phelps was celebrated for his genetic advantage that helped propel him to the international swimming spotlight.
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