'International sports bodies are not yet ready for super athletes like Caster'

Athletics South Africa (ASA) will appeal a judgment of the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) upholding the International Association of Athletics Federations' (IAAF’s) regulations which will force female athletes with higher testosterone levels to take suppressants to compete.

Read: Sports minister instructs ASA to appeal CAS ruling on Caster Semenya.

Minister of Sport and Recreation Tokozile Xasa on Monday confirmed the news, saying ASA will lodge its papers within the stipulated and prescribed period.

Caster Semenya and ASA lost her case challenging new rules forcing female athletes to regulate their testosterone levels.

Semenya is thought to have an intersex condition known as hyperandrogenism, meaning her body may naturally produce androgens which are hormones that include testosterone at higher levels than most women.

To discuss the ruling, Eusebius McKaiser speaks to sports scientist Ross Tucker and Wits University associate professor Hlonipha Mokoena.

Testosterone is what is known as androgen, and that word means male-making. It is a hormone that any parent will recognise that it causes these significant transformations in their children when they get to puberty.

Ross Tucker, Sports scientist

Boys produce much higher levels of testosterone as a consequence of having testicles and what that does is it causes the development of the secondary sex characteristics which includes deepening of the voice and hair growth. It also increases things like muscle mass, reduced fat mass, the shape of the skeleton changes, the heart gets more prominent, and the combination of those things is what creates a performance difference between boys and girls.

Ross Tucker, Sports scientist

He says when you look at sports records, the difference between boys and girls at ages 10 and 11 is non-existent.

The world record for girls at the age of 11 is faster than for boys in most of the sprint events. But once they reach puberty, the difference becomes enormous. When we get to adulthood in a running event, the difference between men and women is 10% to 12%. That is mostly but not exclusively determined by testosterone.

Ross Tucker, Sports scientist

He says if two athletes who are identical in every respect but one is male and the other female, the male will outperform the female by 10% to 12%, and that is why we separate into men and women categories for sport.

Also read: 'There are no two ways about it, we will appeal this Caster judgment'

Tucker says the first documented case of a sex/gender controversy in sport was in 1936.

Two athletes in the Berlin Olympic Games were thought to be men competing as women. The initial fear was that men would disguise themselves as women and then win all the medals in women events.

Ross Tucker, Sports scientist

He reiterates that we are still in the infancy stages in understanding the genetics of how all these things work and how the genetic signal produces the person and so forth.

In the beginning, every woman who competed in a major tournament had to be examined by a panel of doctors, he adds.

Mokoena joins the conversation and says international sports bodies are not ready for super athletes such as Semenya.

She says the problem lies in how we define an athlete and the issue is about taking averages of ordinary human beings and defining someone who combines genetic makeup with training.

The disadvantage is that you are telling certain women that they cannot be athletes and that is part of the debate that regulating bodies have not thought about.

Hlonipha Mokoena, Associate professor - Wits University

The idea is almost as if you get out of bed in the morning and decide that: 'Ok today I am going to run in the Olympics'. Meanwhile, that is not what happens. The decision to compete in sport is a much more complicated decision.

Hlonipha Mokoena, Associate professor - Wits University

People don't mind in other sports when there is a super athlete but the minute that athlete is a black female, that can't happen; we have to find a way to suppress this person's prowess.

Hlonipha Mokoena, Associate professor - Wits University

Listen below to this interesting conversation:


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