When is “discrimination necessary” to preserve integrity? This sentence seems like an oxymoron, but it is the official ruling of the highest international court in sports.
As society becomes more open-minded about gender identity, accepting or at least recognizing that the binary genders don’t apply to everyone, a tough question comes to light: what happens to institutions that rely on the male / female model?
In some cases, the model is antiquated. But in others, the model is considered essential for fair competition.
Since the majority of sports competitions are divided into “men’s” and “women’s” for an even playing field, in which field should intersex athletes compete?
This question specifically affects two-time Olympic Champion Caster Semenya, who has an intersex condition that makes her testosterone levels much higher than the average female.
When the track and field world’s governing body proposed a limit on testosterone levels in female athletes in order to be eligible for certain distance races, she went to the highest court in international sports to challenge the decision.
The Court of Arbitration for Sport sided with the International Association of Athletics Federation, ruling that while testosterone-limit rules are discriminatory, they are necessary.
Here’s a snippet from the court’s executive summary: “The majority of the Panel found that, on the basis of the evidence submitted by the parties, such discrimination is a necessary, reasonable and proportionate means of achieving the IAAF’s aim of preserving the integrity of female athletics.”
This means that Semenya will not be allowed to compete against women in major international competitions like the Olympics unless she takes testosterone suppressants. Her other options include entering the men’s competition, or entering intersex races if they are available.
Read more on the story:
“Caster Semenya Loses Case to Compete as a Woman in All Races” by The New York Times
“Track and Female” on The Daily podcast by Vox (podcast is at the end of the article).