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Required testosterone reduction is a diabolical means to ‘fairness’

By John Burbridge
sports@charlescitypress.com

This is my dream interview.

I’m standing with Caitlyn Jenner on the north end of Drake Stadium’s blue oval during the state track and field championships. With the side-by-side murals paying homage to the Iowa High School Athletic Association and the Iowa Girls High School Athletic Union in the background, I ask the most loaded of questions.

“Ms. Jenner, don’t you think it’s about time for this state to adopt a transgender athletic union?”

Inappropriate? Maybe … and “transgender” is probably not the right word when referring to an organization that serves both male and female.

But I can’t resist, and I’m not going to blow an opportunity when the person, setting and history are perfectly aligned.

Back when Caitlyn was Bruce Jenner, he attended Graceland College — now Graceland University — in Lamoni, Iowa. There on a football scholarship, Jenner was encouraged to go out for track and field and focus on the decathlon after a knee injury wrecked his football career.

In his debut in the 10-event competition, Jenner placed fifth at the 1970 Drake Relays before rolling off a series of personal-bests on way to winning the gold in the decathlon at the 1976 Montreal Olympics.

With all that’s happened since, I’m sure Jenner would have an interesting response to the question when posed at a place where it all began for her.

My opinion on the subject is likely less nuanced. Having covered high school sports in several other states with encompassing single athletic unions or associations — like there are for the rest of the United States — I have a hard time keeping attune with the subtle differences between Iowa’s two governing bodies. For instance, the opening round of the girls basketball postseason is referred to as “regionals” while for the boys it’s “districts”. Or is it the other way around?

Please forgive a non-native now getting AARP membership requests in mail for not ingraining the proper categorizations into his aging brain.

Though the IGHSAU touts itself as the only prep union in the “union” that caters exclusively to female athletes, separate but equal remains elusive. According to an enterprise story published by the Cedar Rapids Gazette in 2017 with Form 990 tax forms cited as sources, the IHSAA (boys) had expenses totaling $6.81 million during the 2015 fiscal year while the IGHSAU (girls) had expenses totaling $3.56 million that same year.

When moneyed discrepancies between male and female athletes are highlighted at the professional level — a current sore subject with women hockey and soccer players — the reasoning for them can be unapologetically blunt: Men are better athletes than women, thus they should be paid more.

But what happens when a female athlete shortens that athleticism gap?

South African middle distance runner Caster Semenya, a two-time Olympic gold medalist in the 800-meter run, is finding that out the hard way.

After winning the gold in the 800 at the 2009 World Championships, Semenya was subject to “sex testing” as dictated by the International Association of Athletics Federations. Though the results were never made public due to privacy issues, the IAAF reinstated Semenya in 2010.

But the controversy hasn’t gone away for Semenya, who has since been erroneously referred to as a “transgender” athlete. There are claims that Semenya has “intersex” traits while being labeled by the IAAF as a “hyperandronegeous” athlete, meaning in her case of being a female with extrodinarily high testosterone levels.

Last spring, the IAAF imposed a rule that such hyperandronegeous athletes must take medication to lower their testosterone levels. The IAAF anointed its ruling as “necessary, reasonable and proportionate.”

Rather it’s insidious.

In an era of sports that’s still trying to rid itself of the performance-enhancing stigma, now we’ve got an organization trying to push performance “de-enhancers”. OK, this is all in the spirit of making things “fair”, and Semenya’s case may be a hard one. But that further proves the point that hard cases tend to make bad laws. And this law, or rather decision, is a bad one.

If the IAAF has already ruled that Semenya can compete as a woman, then she should be allowed to compete without any medical self-infliction, Y chromosomes in her DNA or not.

Throughout the history of sports, there have been athletes — even animals — who have been naturally blessed with what some would call “unfair advantages”.

Ted Williams, Larry Bird and Wayne Gretzky, all legends in their respective sports, all had extraordinary eyesight. In fact when Williams — the last major leaguer to officially hit .400 in a season — took his routine medical examination with the Navy during World War II, it was discovered that he had 20/10 vision. That means Williams could see at 20 feet what normal people see at 10 feet.

So why didn’t they force Williams to wear special glasses to hamper his vision whenever he stepped up to the plate? He obviously had an “unfair advantage.”

So did Secretariat, arguably the greatest Thoroughbred race horse of all time, with his enlarged heart and chest capacity that “unfairly” enhanced his endurance. Secretariat won the Triple Crown in 1973 and — get this! — never got disqualified.

The IAAF ruling, which conspicuously applies only to the 400-, 800- and 1500-meter runs that Semenya specializes in, initially went into effect late last year. Earlier in June of 2018, Semenya challenged the ruling and was granted a legal hearing with the Court of Arbitration for Sport in February.

On May 1, the court rejected her challenge and the IAAF testosterone-decreasing policy went back into effect yesterday (May 8).

In response, Semenya’s legal team stated that her “genetic gifts should be celebrated, not discriminated against.”

So true.

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