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Hyperandrogenism: Caster Semenya cannot be the target, but a solution must be found

Caster Semenya of South Africa celebrates winning gold in the Women's 1500 metres final at the Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games. (Photo: Getty Images)
by Gianni Merlo, AIPS President, La Gazzetta dello Sport

LAUSANNE, April 12, 2018 - Caster Semenya has been at the center of a debate in the sporting world for nine years now. She appeared suddenly on the eve of the World Cup in 2009 in Berlin, when she was only eighteen years old and she dominated the 800 meters. Very powerful physically, she demonstrated that she had an extra gear compared to her opponents, who were all of high level. She sailed past them with extreme ease. Too much ease. Now she is back, dominating again, with wins ranging from the 400 to the 1,500 meters, a feat no one has ever managed before her. At the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games she easily won the 1,500 meters and is expected to do the same in the 800m.

BREAKING Physically, Semenya might seem to have the wrong physique to conquer the highest level in the longer races, but she practically does not even see her rivals on the track, so great is her superiority. In some cases, there have been doubts that she holds back, intentionally, from demonstrating all her power, because in that case she could reach humanly impossible times for a woman. And then the controversy would become even greater.

POLEMICS In 2009, Caster ended up under investigation, because many had doubts about the levels of testosterone present in her body. In the previous century, sex testing was introduced before competitions to prevent female athletes that were “too masculine” from winning everything, because there were many examples in this sense in the past. But that precaution was then removed by the IOC, determined to respect human rights.

DOPING Choosing this way is politically correct, but unfortunately discriminating in reality. The phenomenon of hyperandrogenism must be tackled once and for all, because women like Caster Semenya have undeniable advantages. We cannot tell her opponents, who have ‘normal’ and therefore inferior natural testosterone levels, to take hormones to cancel out difference in ‘engine levels’, because in this case we would be talking about authorized doping.

PROTECTION It is not a small problem and certainly the rights of Caster and many other athletes, who are in the same position, must be protected, but a solution must be found for everyone. Semenya is the focus, because hers is the most obvious and also the most discussed case, but there are many athletes in her position and a formula that protects them must be found, but one that also protects others.

IAAF The International Athletics Federation in November is set to take an official position to try to solve the case. It might be that athletics goes back to the previous situation, when the athletes suffering from hiperhandrogenism would undergo targeted treatment to decrease their testosterone levels, and the advantage. This is certainly not the ideal solution, but perhaps it is the most practical.

CASTER I happened once, years ago, to dine with Caster and it was a very interesting experience. She has no problem talking about herself. Of her passion for boxing, of her dreams. She does not feel different and follows her own needs and way of life. She married the very attractive Violet Raseboya in a traditional wedding ceremony in 2015. At the last Laureus Awards in Monte Carlo Caster was dressed perfectly in a tuxedo. She was very elegant. She is the head of the family. We can only hope that a solution will be found that is fair for all. Neither her nor anyone else should be a target.

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