By John Nwaobi
It is unethical for the IAAF to so potentially want to impose great harm on female athletes with DSD and coercing humans to become guinea pigs.
Athletics history would have now recorded a new entry, as the International Association of Athletics Federations, IAAF, officially ought to have begun implementing the regulations approved by the Court of Arbitration for sport that female athletes with Differences of Sex Development, DSD, take medication to lower their testosterone before they can compete in international athletics.
The IAAF, complicit in originating this regulation, may still be feeling smug securing CAS’ ruling in their favour but I hope their chest-thumping is short lived. More than before, the notion is stronger that, South African 800m Olympic champion, Caster Semenya, has been doggedly vilified and targeted by the same IAAF that has yet to live down the infamy of the sex tests Semenya was subjected to in 2009. These are really degradations that no human should be made to suffer.
It goes beyond athletes and medical science what befalls athletics in the months ahead. Madeline Pape, who competed for Australia against Semenya in the 800m at the 2009 Berlin World Athletics Championships, has addressed her lack of accountability back then for her “own uninformed opinions” in the allegations that Semenya has an “unfair” advantage. Pape is blunt that CAS’ decision to endorse rules aimed at excluding Semenya and other women athletes with naturally high levels of testosterone is wrong.
The ethical validity of the regulations
The World Medical Association, reportedly, has requested doctors around the world not to carry out IAAF’s new rule. WMA President, Dr Leonid Eidelman, strongly rejects the ethical validity of the regulations, saying they “are based on weak evidence from a single study, which is currently being widely debated by the scientific community.”
A study by Harvard Medical School endocrinologists, Grace Huang and Shehzad Basaria, published in 2017 examined the performance-enhancing effects of anabolic-androgenic steroids in female athletes and was unambiguous that any competitive advantage is conferred by endogenous hyperandrogenism seen in DSD. In non-scientific speak, there is still no clear proof that high testosterone hormone occurring naturally in female athletes gives them unfair advantage.
We need not be scientists to caution that pseudo-science poses a grave danger.
We need not be athletes to object to the ruling by CAS, except those who allege and side with IAAF that Semenya enjoys an unfair advantage, even given that some of the concerns that they express are, well, understandable, but not incontrovertible.
We need be human beings who must not spectate and applaud discrimination, nor tolerate women being humiliated, their most intimate privacies invaded, examined and probed as has been done to Semenya.
Nor should misogynistic males who govern sports be given room to magistrate over the bodily biology of female athletes; for whether we care to admit it or not, organised sports have for long been ruled by men, serving as a primary masculinity-validating experience, and providing an entitled token of a natural superiority over women. It carries over to how female athletes are treated and there is, sadly, little accountability.
How did our world go so far wrong for CAS to acknowledge that IAAF’s regulations are discriminatory but then endorses the discrimination as necessary for preserving the integrity of female athletics in the middle-distance races? Semenya is primarily a middle-distance runner. In typical Nigerian-speak of incredulity: haba! Would any one really need to have a third eye to see how wrong-headed CAS’ ruling is? CAS would have us believe it did not come easily to its decision without some head-scratching and deep contemplations of the complex intersections of the science of testosterone, women’s bodily biology, the value quotient of a co-mingling of athletic skills, training, resilience of the human spirit, and other blurry perplexities that define human uniqueness. Really?
To the question asked, after her victory in the 800m in Doha last week, whether she would take hormone-suppressing medication in order to continue to compete, Semenya had responded with an emphatic “hell no!” Hell yeah. There is significant measure of harm that athletes could fall to taking strong testosterone-suppressants, and nothing has been said about how IAAF expects to track the risks and side effects that strong drugs would expose athletes to. It is unethical for the IAAF to want to so potentially impose great harm on these athletes and coercing humans to become guinea pigs.
Implementation of the regulations kick in with the IAAF giving no heed to further circumspection. Neither must we cease to speak out against them going down this questionable road. For IAAF’s partners and the global brand names that sustain them financially, it is an inconvenient time to be silent and carry on business as usual. There is nothing honourable or supportive of the lofty ideals of sports as a universal binding force for good in a brand identifying with institutions that violate the ethical covenants of what make us humans.
The right to equality and non-discrimination
And just so the big money behind IAAF does not, hopefully, insist on wearing blinders, they can find moral compass in the concerns declared by the UN Human Rights Council at its 40th session two months ago that regulations, rules and practices requiring women and girl athletes with DSD, androgen sensitivity and levels of testosterone to medically reduce their blood testosterone levels contravene international human rights norms and standards, including “the right to equality and non-discrimination, the right to the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health, the right to sexual and reproductive health, the right to work and to the enjoyment of just and favourable conditions of work, the right to privacy, the right to freedom from torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, and full respect for the dignity, bodily integrity and bodily autonomy of the person.”
Here’s one more, and it specifically calls out sporting associations to “refrain from developing and enforcing policies and practices that force, coerce or otherwise pressure women and girl athletes into undergoing unnecessary, humiliating and harmful medical procedures in order to participate in women’s events in competitive sports, and to repeal rules, policies and practices that negate their rights to bodily integrity and autonomy.”
Seems like it should not be such a hard decision to be on the side of the norms and standards of what makes us humans. Here’s holding out hope then that this ruling when appealed, would be overturned. That would make for a sweet victory lap.
*John Nwaobi is a business executive with a Sports Marketing and Brand Activation Agency.