BY JAMILA RIZVI
In 2009, world champion 800m runner Caster Semenya was the subject of a huge media and public backlash, after rumours emerged that she had failed a gender test. A competitor in the same race, Elisa Cusma, said of Caster: “These kind of people should not run with us. For me, she’s not a woman. She’s a man.”
Caster told the BBC last year, “I don’t give a sh#% about athletics any more…. So running or not running, it’s the same story for me… I don’t have rights, let’s put it this way, in athletics I don’t have rights.”
I am sure Caster is a strong individual. You have to be, in order to dedicate the time and effort it requires to be an elite sportsperson. But those are the words of a woman who was at her breaking point, a woman who felt attacked and was hitting back.
There were reports earlier this year that the International Olympic Committee is considering new guidelines that would prevent women from competing if they have more than a certain level of testosterone in their bodies.
This is not about doctors giving sneaky injections to athletes under the table and trying to cover it up – that’s blatant cheating. No – these potential rules would effect women who are simply born that way.
Academic experts Rebecca Jordan-Young and Katrina Karkazis say that measuring testosterone levels is simply not the right way to go. They argue that:
“Testosterone is one of the most slippery markers that sports authorities have come up with yet. Yes, average testosterone levels are markedly different for men and women. But levels vary widely depending on time of day, time of life, social status and – crucially – one’s history of athletic training…
Yes, doping with testosterone will most likely improve your performance by increasing muscle size, strength and endurance. But you cannot predict how well athletes will do in a competition by knowing their relative testosterone levels. There is just too much variation in how bodies make and respond to testosterone – and testosterone is but one element of an athlete’s physiology.”
Now a lot of that makes sense but the lines of reason are only blurred further when you consider Keelin Godsey’s story.
Keelin Godsey isn’t competing in the London 2012 Olympics. Keelin is 28, he lives in Massachusettes and he’s a world class hammer thrower. But despite setting a personal best of 231 feet 3 inches, during the qualifying rounds for the US Olympic team, Keelin was still 11 inches short of the last qualifier, Jessica Cosby. That’s right, Jessica.
While he identifies as male, Keelin is physically female and so competes against women in the hammer throw. Keelin has postponed gender reassignment surgery for years, in the hope of finally reaching his dream of representing his country at an Olympic Games. Now it seems, that’s unlikely to ever happen.
It’s a shattered dream and one which many athletes – who fell just short of the standard required to compete on the world’s biggest sporting stage – have to deal with. But imagine if things had gone differently for Keelin. Imagine if Keelin had managed to throw that extra 11 inches. What would the world’s reaction have been?