He is angry. Angry and cynical, says Greg Knott, South African athlete Caster Semenya’s lawyer since 2009. It’s that the news was black and white, otherwise it would be hard to believe.
Under “Miscellaneous” (Miscellaneous), “Error” appeared in file British Journal of Sports Medicine. Based on research from 2017, two senior staff members of the World Association of Athletics Federations (WA) concluded in the official journal that female athletes with a lot of testosterone have an advantage. Research forms the basis of the regulations for DSD (Differences in Sexual Development): an athlete must have no more than 5 nmol of testosterone to participate in the 400m, 800m, 1500m and hurdles events. If her testosterone level is higher, she will have to take medications or undergo surgery.
The authors – one the director of Health and Science at World Athletics, the other his predecessor – seem to support their study, but feel they were too firm in their conclusions. They shouldn’t argue that women who have too much testosterone have benefit But this high testosterone in women Connected With more success.
The authors acknowledge that some of their statements could be considered “misleading”. They call for an independent process to find more evidence for “causal relationships between the variables analyzed.”
The call for such an assessment has been heard around the world for some time. Sometimes World Athletics research has been compared to a cigarette manufacturer studying the health effects of smoking. Roger Belk Jr., a professor at the University of Colorado, wrote two years ago in International Sports Law Journal: “Global Athletics is obligated to take care and fulfill its responsibility to its athletes. Whatever the rules, be it footwear, prosthetics or women’s fitness, must be based on solid and verifiable data and evidence.”
What did you think when you read the patch?
Greg Knott: “Why now? Why are you now coming up with an article that the conclusions are misleading?”
Give her a chance.
That way, of course, they can keep Semenya off the track.”
You mean from the Olympic track in Tokyo?
“Yes. Isn’t it a coincidence that this correction appears right after the Olympics? How else can the timing be explained? I talk to Custer regularly. She is more pessimistic than ever about the motivations of world athletics. She feels that she and other African runners are being targeted by the Games. world powers. That there is a dividing line between white and black, between rich and poor.”
You have said that the rules of the athletics association are “racist and anti-women”. Do you have proof of that?
“The vast majority of athletes affected by the rules come from Africa and are dark-skinned. Does that make you think? Why do world athletics have a hard time celebrating their medals?”
The association believes that athletes with increased testosterone, such as Semenya, have an advantage over athletes who do not.
“But a lot of top athletes have an advantage, right? Think tall basketball players or a swimmer like Michael Phelps with big feet. If you want to think along that line, go to everybody Benefits everybody Athletes all over the world are looking for not only testosterone levels in women like Semenya. And besides: Custer is not very good because of these values, she trains hard for her performance [ze is tweevoudig olympisch kampioene en drievoudig wereldkampioene op de 800 meter]. I remember well I was in a South African hotel somewhere. The winter was cold. I got up at five in the morning to run up a small hill nearby. We are talking about a very strong and professional athlete. At certain times of the day I am not allowed to call her because she is busy with her sport.”
However, even after the correction, World Athletics Chairman Sebastian Coe says in the British Journal of Sports Medicine: We stick to the rules, which are preceded by ten years of solid scientific research.
He sighs. “Sebastian Coe says a lot of things I don’t agree with. But his Director of Health and Science says something completely different. He wants to examine his own research. Two people from the same organization, who’s right? And by the way, I find the word ‘misleading’ shocking. Look at the tragic consequences.” For this deception. It is an irresponsible form of neglect.”
You mean athletes have to go through therapy to be able to compete at their preferred distances? World Athletics denies forcing it to do so.
“That’s what you mean by ‘compulsion.’ World Athletics offers only one option – lower testosterone levels – and that option turns out to be based on misleading scientific research.”
Read also: Women in Athletics: The Impossible Choice Between Body and Career
Perhaps it’s a rather strange association, but you can compare it to the position of many governments during a pandemic: You don’t have to vaccinate, but if you don’t, you won’t be allowed to participate in many parts of our society.
“I can follow this comparison very well. The bad thing about this case is that the athletes rely on experts in a particular field. They assume their research is sound. If not, who can you trust?”
You mentioned “serious consequences”. What do you think first?
“To a violation of human rights. Human dignity. Physical integrity. But it is so much more. Custer could not defend her title in the World Cup and Olympics. This not only affects the care and motivational speeches, on which he counts — as does the Caster Semenya Foundation, in this regard — but South Africa may also have lost a gold medal in doing so. The country is in great need of solidarity and strength. There is a lot of social upheaval, the pandemic has left deep wounds, and the ethnic differences are huge. Imagine what an Olympic title would have done in a country full of sports fanatics? “
Considering a lawsuit against world athletics?
To amend the rules or to impose financial compensation?
“Both. We have three teams of lawyers in England, South Africa and Canada, and we work with care and diligence. A lot of money is needed. I do this work for free, but other lawyers don’t. For twelve years we have been raising money for all the cases that Semenya brought it: at the CAS, at the Swiss Supreme Court, and most recently at the European Court of Human Rights. As a former human rights lawyer, I have a lot of experience raising money, but what if I don’t? And what if Semenya doesn’t have much of a Will and perseverance? By then, this issue was long gone.”
How much donations have been received?
“A few million dollars. Companies and NGOs (NGOs) that deal with gender or abuse of women are involved. Just to keep Semenya on the right track between 2009 and 2015, it took two million dollars. Then I don’t count these cases in a court Sports arbitration, the Swiss Supreme Court and the European Court of Human Rights. We are facing a powerful sports association, which makes a lot of money from Semenya. How ridiculous is that?”
Because she’s a world-famous player?
“Yes. She is a world-renowned athlete who pays to stand up for her rights.”
He maintains that Caster Semenya is not a victim. She may have experienced many adversities in her life, but she does not know pity for herself. She is always ready to fight. Knott describes standing in front of a group of people not so long ago. She said, “I know I have a deep voice, and my body is what it sounds like. But I’m Caster. And I’m a woman.”
How would she describe her current state of mind?
“I remember her since she was a shy teen. She’s grown a lot, she’s become herself. I’ve found her voice. And the nice thing too: She now has a two-year-old daughter – also because she can’t take part in the races. Maybe it was God’s will,” she says.
There is still a positive side to this story.
“Sure, but this story is about something else, about men making mathematical rules based on preconceived notions about women. Women are supposed to be flirtatious and sexy—forgive the term—. They’re supposed to take a look that Custer doesn’t necessarily have.”
Western stereotype of women?
“I took those words off my mouth.”
Are more athletes like Semenya considering legal action?
“I suspect they are, but even if they don’t, they are represented by Custer.” as a woman. She knows very well that she is not fighting this battle alone. Her victory is a victory for all women and their rights.”
Semenya is now 30 and hasn’t run the 800m since June 2019. Time is running out.
“She knows it better than anyone else. She has been fighting for the right to compete in the areas where she is the best for 11, 12 years. And that while she is winning the World Cup and Olympic medals, who is imitating her?”
How long will the battle last?
“It’s hard to say, although the fact that the European Court of Human Rights is considering our case as a priority is encouraging. I assumed myself five years ago, but suddenly we knew things were going faster. Perhaps sooner than many think.”
Are you an optimist?
„I should be optimistic, Semenya too. Sooner or later justice will prevail.”
A version of this article also appeared on NRC on the morning of August 24, 2021
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