IAAF moves to end South African Semenya’s reign
South African track star, Caster Semenya’s controversial reign of middle distance running may be cut short following the issue of new Eligibility Regulations for Female Classification by world governing body, International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF).
On Thursday, the IAAF published a statement on their website spelling out regulations for athletes who cover events from 400m to the mile, including 400m, hurdles races, 800m, 1500m, one mile races and combined events over the same distances (‘Restricted Events’). The IAAF announced a separate classification for athletes of Difference of Sexual Development (DSD) which will require those athletes to reduce their blood testosterone levels and maintain those levels if they want to compete internationally.
The new Regulations, approved by the IAAF Council in March, will come into effect from 1 November 2018 and replace the previous Regulations Governing Eligibility of Females with Hyperandrogenism. This comes on the back of a decade-long debate over the controversy sparked by Semenya, who is the most famous athlete suffering from Hyperandrogenism, also known as androgen excess. Hyperandrogenism is a medical condition characterized by excessive levels of androgens (male sex hormones such as testosterone) in the female body and the associated effects of the elevated androgen levels.
The new rules effectively mean that Semenya’s long and controversial reign as the queen of middle distance will come to an end, unless she takes medication to lower the androgens in her body. Semenya, double Olympic and triple world champion over 800m who completed the 800-1500 double at the Commonwealth Games this month, has always been a controversial figure in the sport as its authorities have sought a solution that respected her rights while also providing a “level playing field”.
Ever since she won the 800m title as an 18 year old in 2009, Semenya’s career has been dogged by controversies to do with her being hyperandrogenous. Some of her rivals have in fact had her rivals complaining that they faced an impossible and unfair challenge in her.
The IAAF Council announced last month that following a review of available evidence it would revise its regulations, with the changes coming into force on Nov. 1.
According to the new rules DSD athletes will have to reduce their blood testosterone level to below 5nmol/L for a continuous period of at least six months and must maintain those levels continuously for the rest of their athletic career. Female athletes who want to take part in international events but do not lower their testosterone levels will be allowed to compete against men.
South African Sports minister Tokozile Xasa has since labelled the new IAAF rules as ‘Caster Semenya regulations’. In a strong worded statement released following the official announcement by the IAAF, Xasa said her government would continue to engage with relevant bodies and utilise all available avenues to ensure that Semenya and other athletes likely to be affected by the regulations are allowed to participate unhindered by measures intended to reduce their competitive edge.
In the statement, IAAF president Sebastian Coe is quoted as saying: “As the International Federation for our sport we have a responsibility to ensure a level playing field for athletes. Like many other sports we choose to have two classifications for our competition – men’s events and women’s events. This means we need to be clear about the competition criteria for these two categories.
Our evidence and data show that testosterone, either naturally produced or artificially inserted into the body, provides significant performance advantages in female athletes. The revised rules are not about cheating, no athlete with a DSD has cheated, they are about levelling the playing field to ensure fair and meaningful competition in the sport of athletics where success is determined by talent, dedication and hard work rather than other contributing factors.”
“The latest research we have undertaken, and data we have compiled, show that there is a performance advantage in female athletes with DSD over the track distances covered by this rule,” Dr Stephane Bermon from the IAAF Medical and Science Department is also quoted as saying on the IAAF site.
The New Regulations
The new Regulations require any athlete who has a Difference of Sexual Development (DSD) that means her levels of circulating testosterone (in serum) are five (5) nmol/L or above and who is androgen-sensitive to meet the following criteria to be eligible to compete in Restricted Events in an International Competition (or set a World Record in a Restricted Event at competition that is not an International Competition):
(a) she must be recognised at law either as female or as intersex (or equivalent
b) she must reduce her blood testosterone level to below five (5) nmol/L for a continuous period of at least six months (e.g., by use of hormonal contraceptives);
and (c) thereafter she must maintain her blood testosterone level below five (5) nmol/L continuously (ie: whether she is in competition or out of competition) for so long as she wishes to remain eligible.
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AFRICAâ€™S RECOVERY: Sports as game changer
The year 2022 witnessed unprecedented phenomena. Several Africans- Gotytom Gebreslase, Sharon Lokedi, Victor Kiplangat, Tamarit Tola and many others- swept the Worldâ€™s marathons records.
However, the COVID-19 pandemic, and the resulting control measures implemented in several countries, led to many high-level sports competitions being cancelled or shelved, the Dakar 2022 Youth Olympic Games was moved to 2026.
Founder and Executive Chairman, African Sports and Creative Institute, Will Mabiakop, says the inability to hold traditional and amateur sports events have had a serious effect on public health overall, including mental health, sparking a revolution whereby athletes began to talk more openly about stress, mental overload and performance anxiety.
â€śAfrica is home to the fastest growing economies before the crisis, no longer on track to meet the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). COVID-19 deepened interdependence between SDGs, making them harder to achieve, especially SDG 10 (reducing inequality) and SDG 5 (gender equality_ as the pandemic had a disproportionate impact on poorer countries, and heavier burdens (such as care work) fell to women.â€ť
Mabiakop stresses that as policymakers contemplate actions to speed up recovery and build resilience, they must argue that sports and creative businesses should play a central feature in this effort.
â€śThe sports economy worldwide is estimated at 5% of GDP, but only 0.5% in Africa. If exploited, Africaâ€™s sports and creative industries can offer policymakers innovative solutions. Especially, as regards job creation, and providing employment to the 15 million people entering the job market annually.â€ť
HOW CAN THE INDUSTRY DO THIS?
By leveraging the two-for-one concept: past studies shown that a 1% growth in the economy delivers a 2% job increment in this sector (these ratios are calculated using data from 48 African countries and adjusted to the reality of the sports economy in Africa by the authors). There are between 30 and 50 job types, in sports and creative industries, respectively. These jobs do not fade away with the first major shock.
Mabiakop indicated that policymakers can use these industries to tackle multiple crises- jobs, poverty, and climate risks. Sports diplomacy- defined as communication, representation and negotiation in or through the prism of sports- has proven effective in building inclusive and cohesive societies. Moreover, sports and the creative industry can support better mental health and well-being, both important for productivity.
â€śPolicymakers can also be true to the game by leveraging culture and tradition to celebrate identity and reap commercial value in sports, textiles and jewelry. Creative sectors allow deeper connection with culture, are not easily copied and provide great economic potential.â€ť
He said supporting grassroots sports has powerful distributional effects. â€śFortunately, technology has made reaching wide audiences easier, generating higher rates of success when talent is discovered.â€ť
However, Mabiakop held that potential pitfalls must be highlighted. â€śFirst avoid build it and they will come policies with infrastructures denuded from the rest of the ecosystem. Like the many sports stadiums left largely unused.â€ť
â€śPolicymakers must remain mindful of how these sectors move the needle in human capital development. Also, align the requisite public policies needed for progress from grassroots participation to professional sports, and even to international sporting events. They should also support investment instruments to render these sectors performant.â€ť