Why Caster Semenya must continue to run amongst elite women

Sport isn’t fair.

Sport isn’t about pitting closely matched rivals against each other.

Sport exists to promote the pursuit of excellence; excellence in oneself and inspire it in others.

It’s for these reasons that Caster Semenya and any other intersex or hyperadrogenic athlete must continue to compete in any sporting discipline they choose.

The Case Against Fairness

Can heightened testosterone levels increase performance? Yes.

Could being born white and in relative affluence, in one of the richest countries in the history of the world, with one of the most advanced non-professional sports programs and access to modern sport science improve sporting performance? Yes.

Is either fair? Probably not, yet the latter is par for the course in many sports and causes no umbrage on the world sporting stage.

The Case Against Closely Matched Rivals

After Usain Bolt broke his own world records in the 100m and 200m sprints in 2009, the former world record holder; Michael Johnson, was asked how long those records might last:

“there’s no one competing right now that can break those records and I would probably go so far to say that the person that will break them hasn’t been born yet”

Yet despite the possibility that no one living, let alone competing, might challenge Bolt, he continued to run. Seven years on he became the only athlete to win gold in the 100m, 200m and 4x100m relay sprint in three consecutive Olympics.

No one called for him to be banned from running or have him change his mechanics so he’d have to take more, shorter strides. Quite the opposite in fact, his dominance made his appearances even more compelling.

Some, like Ross Tucker and Malcolm Gladwell argue that elite women’s sport is a “protected category”. Tuckers states that

Without a women’s category, elite sport would be exclusively male

because elite male athletes outperform their female counterparts in almost all sports.

They are pro-inclusion of women and also pro-distinction of women from men.

However, they want the distinction to exist to separate individuals based on a belief in fairness, that it is unfair that women compete against athletes with heightened levels of testosterone because they want to see a competition between closely matched rivals.

The Case For Excellence and Inspiring Others

I agree that women’s sport should exist because of the need for inclusion, that should be a distinct category, but not one that is founded on the myth of fairness or closely matched rivals.

Women’s sports exist to enable those that identify as women to pursue excellence and to inspire others to do the same. This pursuit requires competitive events, such as the Olympics, even in the face of heavily favored rivals. The last decade of male sprinters were not deterred by Bolt’s performances, nor should this generation’s female middle distance runners.

I want to see more from Caster Semenya. I want her to push the boundaries of her ability, the ability of her rivals and I want her to push the boundaries of my imagination as well as the boundaries of what women can and cannot do.