|Caster Semenya, a female athlete with high testosterone levels|
The latest in the convoluted efforts of sporting bodies to try and make some sensible rulings on what is or not a woman in sport is already under attack.
Caster Semenya, the poster person of men in women's bodies competitors in athletics, has once again hit the headlines in the sporting press. S/he has in fairness suffered at the hands of sporting bodies with their endless vacillations on the problem since Semenya appeared on a track outside of SA for the first time and the resultant eyebrows were raised, for as appearances go if it talks like it and walks like it, then in every likelihood it is.
We will return to Semenya later, but first a little background to what has been the backdrop to this latest attempt to subvert the rules in sport, i.e. cheating through the use of drugs. Drugs in sport is not a new phenomenon: I have some knowledge of this having been a track racing cyclist back in the fifties early sixties.
Doping actually started almost with the first cycle races in the late 1800s. The then very popular six day races on indoor tracks attracted very big crowds and the races unlike today were over six days non-stop, a sort of wheeled version of the marathon dances in the 20s and 30s.
It didn’t take long for competitors to start taking almost anything that would keep them awake or keep them going. Alcohol was a favorite then, brandy mixed in the coffee and it went from there. It is difficult to pin down when hard drugs first started to be used in cycling but by the time the Second World War started it was acknowledged that all the top road riders were using drugs. Of course despite few actually standing up and declaring that fact, it was not illegal then, there were no tests and in fact it was not till later that drugs were to become a no-no. In the early days it was considered as much a reason to see improved athletic performance and drugs were part of that and accepted.
More sophisticated drug use started soon after the war and by the Sixties doctors in the shadows were prescribing drugs for top riders. These of course were all professional road riders where the advantages of drugs in endurance races were were by now fairly well understood.
In track racing, apart from the six day races the endurance element was not uppermost. Track racing requires explosive effort over mainly short distances, so different drugs were needed, steroids being the most obvious one, and this is where we go back to the start of the more widespread use of drugs in women's events, mainly coming from Eastern bloc countries who saw the advantages and could use sporting success for political gain.
There was a difference in those days which also had an effect in how doping became more widespread. You had two distinct classes of riders (three actually here but the third we can dispense with for this analogy): amateurs and professionals. The professional class was beginning to die on its feet as far as track riding was concerned; dwindling events and lack of top class amateurs turning pro were the root cause.
So you had amateurs remaining amateurs because turning pro was a dead end as a profession, for professionals unlike today had to win to live, through prize and appearance money.
Amateurs therefore became the de facto top riders. Most of the top riders were in effect paid by the state as on paper they could not be paid and therefore be thrown out of the amateur ranks, so as in the Eastern bloc countries where most had military title but in actuality just trained for whatever sport they were involved with, in the West many had jobs either working for example Raleigh Cycles here or in the Ministry of sport in France and similar wheezes throughout the world.
For women it was not so easy except in those Eastern bloc countries or the USA where colleges provided sponsorship in their chosen sport whilst studying, all ways to subvert the ethos of actually being an amateur.
At this time women from the same Eastern blocs started to dominate many sports. The first time we saw as cyclists a visiting Russian women's team of track cyclists it was obvious that all was not well: not all but many were built like the proverbial brick sh*t house, looked like men and facial hair was evident on one or two, all the result of a doping regime that used steroids to alter the women's physical make up to nearer that of a man. As time went on and there were still no doping tests, other forms of doping usage started to leak out from the East. Naturally men as well as women were getting the same treatment but it was with the women where the obvious advantages were being translated into performance enhancement.
|Dr Rachel McKinnon, born a male, won gold in the women’s 35-44 age bracket in in Los Angeles (Oct 2018).|
When dope testing first started to be used, there was a concerted attempt to subvert the process. Various wheezes to get round the urine test included clean samples being brought into the testing booths to fill the sample tubes, resulting in the first cases being rumbled when male urine was found in women's samples.
Yet bit by bit the tests became more sophisticated and more and more athletes were found out.
This rather long winded article in the BMJ gives a taste of how complicated all the international bodies have made the whole problem:
There is a sub-plot in that article which puts physiological harm as a reason to be nice to trans athletes !
|A 50-year old post-op transwoman called Gabrielle Ludwig was able to join a girls’ college basketball team|
Naturally it then became a race between the testing authorities and the drug providers to find drugs that could not be detected, such as EPO for distance events. The ante was upped in the 90s when Lance Armstrong became the first really big star to (at first) get away with systematic drug usage and then to fall spectacularly from grace. It was becoming increasingly hard to cheat the system.
I am not going to go any further down that track as the fight against drugs in sport is ongoing, but it brings full circle the rather different approach, that is the use of drugs for women which for the most has consisted of replicating male hormones with the resultant added body strength.
If it had not been for the increased sophistication of the doping tests the cases of the likes of Semenya would not have come to light. In the past there have been women athletes with questionable physical traits who either got away with a drug regime that made them way stronger, or they were physically women in a man's body producing male testosterone and being largely male in body except for genitalia.
|39-year-old weightlifter Laurel Hubbard was the first transgender athlete to represent New Zealand at the Commonwealth Games in April 2018|
The problem world wide the Semenya case has brought about is that countries like SA that have known but not been prepared to reveal what they knew about Semenya are loath to turn against one of their own, having bathed in the initial glory of gold medals won by her.
The case is it seems permanently ongoing as authorities having absolved her are now changing their minds, as a Pandora's box has been opened.
What will happen in that case is anyone's guess, but what it has done is opened a way in this progressive all-will-be-equal world, a route for transgender people to compete. As is natural it is all one way: men who would be women competing in women's sport. Allowing a man to call himself a woman has already led to problems in the real world, but in the world of sport it has only just started. Now instead of individual countries doping women, we have various movements championing the trans people's right to compete and to hell with any logic.
The various sporting administrative national and international bodies need to get their collective acts together fast before this whole trans business wrecks women's sport for good, unless they believe the public will turn up to watch what will be in reality a freak show. Examples have already been seen and in those cases the public disapproval has been ignored on the altar of PC, but if it continues women's sport will be finished.
There is another problem: sport has reverted to the old Eastern bloc set up under a different name. There are no longer any amateurs, which gives countries license to pay what would have been amateurs a decent living as long as they produce medals. This sport going open has really only been a smokescreen for many sports that could not possibly provide a professional living in the real world through lack of interest in that sport and therefore lack of sponsorship, but lottery money doled out to medal-winning sports makes that all possible.
It also means as certain countries have shown, Russia and China being at the forefront, that the old Soviet bloc doping regimes are alive and well. If some of the rumours are to be believed gene replacement will be the end of all sport as it is undetectable at this moment in time, and once again for women they will reap the most benefits.
The end, that is, unless drugs in sport are accepted as an option to greater performance, as they were in the past. There was a time when doping of race horses carried criminal charges if found out but doping of humans was given the OK by the public; perhaps we will go back there, who knows these days.
There is an answer to the problem: simply create a class for these trans people to compete in on their own; but I suspect if that was announced there would be howls of indignation that they were being pigeon-holed as as an unwanted minority or some such and that would never do as then it would indeed be a freak show. Plus if that happened I doubt if there would be nearly as many coming forward claiming they are women; it’s not unlike the man who recently said he was 65 and should be allowed to claim his State pension despite the fact he was actually 47. Today if you believe it and state it your dream can come true; well, maybe for some.