By Patrick Omorodion
Until one is denied a right, he or she may not know how it feels. It is very easy to postulate and pontificate on issues when you are not directly affected. So is the decision of the International Association of Athletics Federations, IAAF, the world governing body of athletics.
As a young boy growing up in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, I was once a victim. I was a pupil of then Municipal Council School in Orogbum, in the Diobu area of Port Harcourt. I sat for the Common Entrance Examiniation that would guarantee me admission into one of the secondary schools in Port Harcourt or any other city in the country.
My dad wanted me to be close to him and so chose the Federal Government College then situated at Rumuola in Port Harcourt. I was among the top five pupils who scored the highest from that school and expectedly deserved to be on the merit list.
When the school released the admission list, my name was missing. When my dad asked from the Principal why I was not listed despite scoring the highest from that school, he couldn’t provide any reasonable answer except to apologise to my dad. He then wrote a recommendation letter ‘To Whom It May Concern’, telling my dad to take it to any other school he prefers, that he was sure I would be admitted.
That was how I left Port Harcourt and returned to Midwest State, my State of origin then. I was young and I felt cheated and cried my eyes out. Anyone who was not in my shoes wouldn’t know how I felt.
I have used the above story to illustrate what South African born 800m world champion Caster Semenya would be feeling over the decision of the IAAF on her eligibility to contest with other female athletes because she possesses a high level of testosterone in her system.
Semenya has not spiked her system with any hormone or drug. The high testosterone is natural and she has no control over it. But the IAAF would not have any of it and wants her to either take medication to reduce the level or start running with men. Or stop running entirely if she disagrees with their ruling.
She appealed the IAAF ruling at the Court of Arbitration for Sports, CAS which came out with another ridiculous ruling in support of the IAAF. The CAS panel of three judges found that the IAAFregulation is discriminatory but added that “Such discrimination is necessary, reasonable”.
How can a discriminatory regulation which hinges on someone’s right be necessary and reasonable at the same time? If the regulation is justifiable, why did the CAS judges say that the rule should be applied to only races up to 800 meters, because there is not enough evidence, for now, to support the idea that women with elevated testosterone levels have a competitive advantage in the 1,500-meter or One-mile race?
If stopping Semenya from running the 800m is to allow for a level playing field for all female athletes, what is the justice and fairness in asking her to opt to run with men? Will there be a level playing field for her running with men? No matter her level of testosterone, she can never be equal with men and will never compete fairly with them.
Has the IAAF also thought about the side effect of asking her to take steroids to reduce her testosterone level? On one hand, the IAAF is warning athletes to avoid using performance enhancing steroids and penalising those who use it when they are caught, on the other hand it is advising or encouraging athletes who have natural endowments to use steroids to slow them down for the benefit of less endowed athletes.
In criticising the IAAF regulation. Kyle Knight, a researcher in Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Rights Program said that asking female athletes to take testosterone suppressants would be “humiliating as it is medically unnecessary”.
Some people are of the opinion that the Sebastine Coe-led IAAF is targetting Semenya with the regulation otherwise the ruling would not have been limited to only the distances she competes in but across all track and field events.
This case is like what happens in our country where a brilliant child who scores very high in JAMB is denied university admission but the one who scores very low is admitted on the excuse that the latter is from an educationally disadvantaged State. How do you measure that a State is disadvantaged? Is the fault that of the brilliant student?
Can an intelligent student with a high IQ be asked to take drugs to reduce his intelligence so that he and his less endowed colleagues will be writing an examination on a level playing field? The high IQ is God’s gift to the brilliant student and it will not only be discriminatory to ask him or her to take drugs to reduce it but criminal and an offence before God.
When Coe was competing, how would he have felt if a discriminatory regulation was introduced to slow him down because he had an amazing endurance over 800m? Coe’s 1min, 41.73secs 800m world record set in 1981 stood for 16 years before it was broken in 1997 by Kenyan-born Dannish runner, Wilson Kpketer. After winning the 800m in Doha, Qatar on Friday, Semenya said, “Hell no, that’s an illegal method,” when asked if she will take testosterone suppressant as demanded by the IAAF. She had equally said that “I know that the IAAF’s regulations have always targeted me specifically,” after the CAS ruling.
She has vowed never to stop running because “It’s up to God. God has decided my life, God will end my life; God has decided my career, God will end my career. No man, or any other human, can stop me from running.” The battle continues.