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Why the Ruling Against Caster Semenya Competing in Track is Based on Bogus Science

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Caster Semenya of South Africa celebrates wins gold in the Women’s 800 meters. 

Caster Semenya crouched over the starting line, waiting for the start in the final 800 meter race at the 2016 Olympic Games. When the gun went off, the middle-distance runner appeared to fly across the track. In the final 200 meters, she split effortlessly from the pack, crossing the finish line far, far ahead of the competition. Semenya had set the fifth-fastest time in Olympic history, winning her second gold medal. But in the days to follow, her triumph was clouded by controversy. Semenya is hyperandrogenic, meaning that her body naturally produces higher levels of testosterone than the average female. Media and sports authorities alike have used this fact to question her athletic success and her very identity, subjecting her to sex tests and insensitive reporting.

Her victories have provoked ongoing debate over who qualifies as a female athlete. Now, as of May 8th, Semenya and others with naturally high levels of testosterone will no longer be able to compete in the 400 meter, 400 meter hurdles, 800 meter, 1500 meter, and 1 mile competitions. The Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS)—the international body established to settle athletic disputes—has sided with the International Association for Athletics Federation’s (IAAF’s) ruling that will regulate gender division in international track and field events. This will specifically target women born with differences of sexual development such as hyperandrogenism. Despite recent appeals to the CAS, Semenya has now officially been denied the right to compete in the body she was born with. In order to race, she’ll have to lower her testosterone levels to what the IAAF deems a “normal” level for females. To do so, she would have to take unnecessary contraceptive pills, have monthly injections of an androgen antagonist, or have surgery to remove internal testes, any of which could have adverse consequences on her health.

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