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.
The most challenging 50 days in Baboloki Thebe’s extra ordinary career have begun to roll in a countdown motion ahead of the Tokyo Olympic Games. Thebe who is seen as heir to Isaac Makwala’s throne in the 400m race is expected to run down the clock and beat 44.9 seconds to book his qualification at the coming Olympic Games.
The indomitable 400m runner has between now and June 29th to achieve this monumental feat. The Olympic Games will be held in Tokyo, Japan from July 23rd to August 8th. There is a looming fear that the promising unconquerable runner might not make it as he has started training at the eleventh hour after spending much time on the side-lines due to social issues and a recurring knee injury.
The struggle to shrug off the rust of injuries and inactivity is believed to have resumed late and by the time the closing date nears, he might leave it too late.The 24 year old runner has since relocated to Ivory Coast to re-establish his old form that gave him a house-hold name both in local and global competitions.
There, the athlete will seek serious races until he finds the one that qualifies him to the tracks of Tokyo. All of these races should be within the IAAF diamond league rules and requirements for him to profusely benefit.
Thebe was conspicuously missing at Poland when Botswana’s famous 4X400M quartet scooped bronze and effectively securing a spot at Tokyo. The team, as usual was captained by Isaac Makwala who knows too well that Thebe has been, and is a significant threat at the world stages.
Before succumbing to injury, Thebe recorded an unimpressive time of 48.85. However, there is still hope for the talented star who left the country under a cloud after he allegedly sneaked out of camp together with one Onkabetse Nkobolo.
It is not highly maintained that the youngster will qualify but it is argued that, at this time of the year, most athletes are still shaking off their yester year rust and Thebe is no exception; he will soon get back to shape. Thebe has admitted that there is a lot of work to be done in the coming few days.
Athletics is a famously lonely sport, sometimes too hard to comprehend. It was the same talent of Thebe who once spoke of his struggles to train away from his families, and often by himself. One of the most fascinating facets of this discipline is that most athletes stand upon a start line, behind a run up, or in a thrower’s circle alone: for ten or twenty seconds, often times, it is their fate that lies solely in their own hands.
On many occasions now Thebe has trained hard and long to represent a country that should now be laden with both sprinting and long distance runner talent- and to re-write history. Time will tell if the young talent is able to live up to his full potential.
Amid the heightened public back lash and low lying protests from athletes concerning welfare and unfair treatment at global stages, it comes to light that sport performance in the country can reach greater heights if the incentive package document seen by WeekendSport is anything to go by.
In March of 2012, the Ministry of Youth Empowerment, Sport and Culture Development liaised with the Ministry of Finance and Economic Development to work out and approve a budget for incentive packages for national team players.
The step was a necessary milestone that aided the Botswana National Sports Commission (BNSC) to erect a long standing policy that dictates the best possible ways of rewarding athletes in various codes.The approved package sees a total of 29 sporting codes listed under 3 categories with different athletes getting varying amounts while on preparatory camps.
In Category 1, the approved package list football and volleyball as the two codes whose preparations can expand over a long period of time. It comes into the open that the monthly allowances per football player is P 1.500 while volleyball players get P 3.500 each. Moreover, all the players under these two codes are entitled to a benefit of a government-funded insurance premium cover of up to P 100 000 in medical expenses.
Furthermore, athletes enjoy death cover of up P 100 000 while a gratuity at 25% of total earnings is payable every four years.Category 2 lists netball, karate, softball, athletics, boxing and rugby. Of these six codes, each athlete receives P2000 for every match appearance.
These athletes also enjoy the same benefits of injury and death cover as codes listed in Category 1.A total of 21 sporting codes are listed in the last category. These include amongst others, chess, badminton, table tennis, motorsport, cricket, squash and swimming. For all these codes, the incentive package states that each player will get P 1.500 per cap. Again, the athletes of these codes retain the same benefits as those in category 1 and 2.
The incentive package document further lists down rewards set aside for athletes performing in regional, continental and world competitions.Individual performers partaking in regional competitions gets P 1 500 if they bring a bronze medal home. P 2000 is for silver medal while athlete is sure of P 2.500 for scooping a gold medal. The same amounts also apply to a group code.
The ante is upped a little high at continental games. The document states that individual athletes bringing home a gold medal will get P 25 000. Furthermore, an athlete winning a silver medal receives P 15 000 while P 10 000 is for a bronze category.
Rewards for performance at the world stage is that an athlete get P 100 000 for scooping a gold medal, P75 000 for silver and P50 000 for bringing a bronze medal home. Furthermore, an athlete is given P 10 000 for finishing within the top 4 places while an added P 5 000 is for those who complete the top 8 category. This is for both individual athletes and group codes.
The document further states in the last paragraph that rewards for setting or breaking competition records is available. If athletes break a regional record, they will be given P 10 000. A continental record set and broken will see an athlete winning P 20 000.
In the Commonwealth stage, a local athlete will be given P 30 000 while P 100 000 is for those who break and set new records both at Olympic Games and World competitions. Coaches are also rewarded and get 10% of what an athlete receives at various competition levels.
However, there are misgivings that the document is static and needs to be revised to match it with today’s standard practice. Calls are overwhelming that rewards must be improved especially for codes-like Athletics- who bring optimum results at global stage.
The document should also clearly state break downs of budget for preparatory competitions and rewards for each stage especially in a group code. When giving clarity, the acting Chief Executive Officer of BNSC, Tuelo Serufho, said that it is necessary to understand the document but is eager to go back to the boardroom and effect changes if need be.
“We must be careful when we compare codes, a lot of emphasis is needed to get to the conclusion of who is performing and is who is failing, but for all purposes of fairness, rewards are meant for everyone and can be triggered,” he said.
COVID-19 Task Force is said to be studying the proposition of Botswana National Sport Commission (BNSC) to re-open sport activities in a phased manner before the end of this month.
The Task Force is said to be operating under immense pressure to build and maintain the equilibrium of sport alongside the impact of corona virus in the country. The team is working behind closed doors following recommendations from BNSC and the Ministry of Youth Empowerment, Sport and Culture Development that the relevant importance of sport together with its socio-economic value in Botswana’s circumstances can no longer be ignored.
This is also propagated by the recent scintillating performance by 4 x400 man national relay team. The quartet led by veteran Isaac Makwala scooped the bronze medal at the World Athletics Championship held in Poland last week. This feat was achieved despite the current lockdown imposed on sport.
Sources say the general recommendation from these sport organs is that sport activities must come back immediately but proper adherence to COVID -19 protocols must also be the number one priority. Furthermore, the sport organizations are believed to have recommended that there must be a phased approach to uplifting the suspension of the games.
Foremost, the Ministry argues that non-contact sports must return in the first phase. This includes among others, long tennis, table tennis, volley ball, athletics and chess. The second stage is to allow contact sport to come back to life where football is largely missed.
It is said the ministry has also attached the matrix involving all 40 sporting codes in the country that all give life to the proposed return to play guidelines. The matrix indicates that all 40 codes need to return to the field as soon as it is safe. Of these 40 codes, 22 of them have an urgent need to return to competition and this includes football.
BNSC argues in their position paper that the level of risk assessed and detected has seen only 10 sporting codes that are not in danger of spreading the virus. These are athletics, badminton, bowling, bridge, golf, motorsport, Paralympics, squash, and traditional sports games.
Football, wrestling, rugby, handball and hockey form part of the codes that act as catalysts in spreading the virus and a proper and strict adherence of protocols is needed.Meanwhile, it is said that football has met with BNSC high ranking officials to present their own case. The football association argues that industry has suffered a lot and there is an urgent need to return.
They say their venue across the value chain in Botswana is about P 55 million, employing approximately 3 000 people directly. About 9 000 jobs are created when the game is up and running, they said.