Kenan Malik writes:
“Why can’t a woman be more like a man?” asks Rex Harrison in My Fair Lady. For the IAAF, the governing body of world athletics, the problem is the opposite – certain women are, in their eyes, too much like a man.
Women such as South African athlete, the 800m world and Olympic champion. Semenya has a condition known as hyperandrogenism, or elevated levels of natural testosterone. Too elevated, in the IAAF’s view.
Its new regulations, announced last week, will ban athletes such as Semenya from competing in any race between 400 metres and a mile unless they undergo medical treatment to reduce their testosterone levels down to an “acceptable” range for women.
Theclaims it wants to create “a level playing field”. But the whole point about sport is that it’s not a level playing field. It selects individuals with natural advantages. It’s no more surprising that elite women athletes may have elevated testosterone levels than that female basketball players are taller.
Whether testosterone confers an advantage is itself disputed. Endocrinologist Peter Sonksen has worked with the International Olympic Committee on anti-doping measures. His research suggests that the testosterone gap that exists between men and women disappears among elite athletes.
The IAAF’s own study shows that the biggest effects of testosterone are in the hammer and pole vault. Yet in neither event will hyperandrogenic women be banned. In the 1500m, testosterone levels had no effect. Yet it is included in the ban. It’s also one of Semenya’s events. That seems less about creating a level playing field than about targeting a particular athlete.
As there are separate competitions for men and women, there has to be a way of distinguishing the two. The IAAF’s testosterone test is, however, irrational, idiotic and unfair.