The Caster Semenya decision

singaporesoxfan

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So Caster Semenya has lost her landmark legal case against the IAAF, and will have to undergo treatments to reduce her naturally high levels of testosterone if she is to compete in the 800m

https://www.theguardian.com/sport/2019/may/01/caster-semenya-loses-landmark-legal-case-iaaf-athletics

Here's some commentary from Madeleine Pape, former runner

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/may/01/losing-caster-semenya-decision-wrong-women-testosterone-iaaf

As a female athlete, I thought high testosterone was a problem. Now I realise this is an outdated and indefensible position
***

We've discussed trans women in sports before, but this is a different thing. Semenya is a woman whose natural advantage is having high testosterone. That advantage is probably unfair, but it seems to be splitting a lot of hairs to me to conclude that she therefore has to undergo treatments to compete fairly, when we don't do the same thing to Usain Bolt's preponderance of fast-twitch muscles or Michael Phelps' webby feet or any NBA player's height, which are just as unfair. And that's not to mention the medical ethics of making someone undergo a treatment that they don't medically need. It all seems very Harrison Bergeron.
 

joe dokes

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It all seems very Harrison Bergeron.
I first thought of Janet Tyler from the Twilight Zone. But this is better. (The analogy, not the IAAF decision).
 

InstaFace

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I hear you on the Harrison Bergeroning, but there's also a question of, why have a Women's division in any sport? Let's remember the first principles here. We have women's divisions because we want women to be able to train, compete, and win things, and not just be beaten by any man in the top 20% of athletic ability. We want to give them goals to reach for in the world of sports, same as men. And it's not all that hard to make a farce of it, to tell them that they can train their entire lives, be the best, compete for millions of dollars, but be absolutely crushed by others through means simply not available to them (to any of them). The goal is to encourage the millions of young girls watching to believe they can go play sports, can compete, and enjoy them, be thrilled by them, and even in a few cases become wealthy by them. If we're discouraging millions of girls or women in order to avoid discouraging a handful of Caster Semenyas in the world, it's a hard sell to tell me that's the right balance.
 

Dernells Casket n Flagon

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I was actually just about to bump one of the older threads because I saw a new news story on a related topic. Mods can break out, but it seems like this is probably the right place for the discussion.

A transgender weightlifter won 9 our of 9 events at a weightlifting competition this last weekend and set four world records (Open world bench press record, masters squat, masters deadlift, and masters total). She's getting backlash on social media including from a number of British Olympic athletes.

https://sports.yahoo.com/bloody-joke-olympians-fume-over-transgender-weightlifters-world-records-093710779.html
 

Tokyo Sox

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The goal is to encourage the millions of young girls watching to believe they can go play sports, can compete, and enjoy them, be thrilled by them, and even in a few cases become wealthy by them. If we're discouraging millions of girls or women in order to avoid discouraging a handful of Caster Semenyas in the world, it's a hard sell to tell me that's the right balance.
Man this is a total failure of both logic and compassion. I’d struggle to think of a worse take.

You think millions of girls and women are going to choose not to participate in sports because one day they might lose to a woman with naturally high testosterone?

Edit: Please read the linked Guardian piece by Pape. The IAAF decision really is indefensible and SSF unsurprisingly nailed the correct dystopian reference in the OP.
 
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InstaFace

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I find the Semenya decision odd for several reasons, which we can get into, but that's a specific case you're trying to make a sarcastic analogy to, and I'm speaking of the general case.

Let me start with a story. I coach a co-ed HS team. Recruiting and retaining girls on the team has a wide set of challenges. There are a few who come in with certain skills, or quickly develop them, such that their gender is essentially irrelevant and they can immediately contribute. But others find themselves on the playing field against boys, initially ill-equipped with an ability to make a difference on the field, and get discouraged quickly. They can't make plays, plays are made against them, they contribute nothing and don't really get any better, and their initial joy of playing the sport gets snuffed out and they quit and go do something else. It is, to put it lightly, a bummer both as a coach, and also as a dad, just from an empathy perspective, watching something that may one day happen to my own girls.

Sending girls (or anyone) out to compete on a level playing field is part of what stokes the joy of sports in them, the awareness that it's in their power to get better, and they're out there testing the limits of their own athletic abilities. What constitutes a "level playing field" is a matter of opinion, but surely that's an essential element of making it an enjoyable experience and one they want to prioritize over, ya know, doing theater or violin lessons or any of the million things a kid can go do. It's a necessary element because without it, you can't really have a sense of agency - a sense that you control your own destiny, that you can influence the outcome. Take away someone's feelings of agency in a video game, or in their career, or in an academic setting, and discouragement inevitably results.

Having rules and enforcement bodies in sports is a part of creating that level playing field, and when you've got a Girls / Women division, part of doing so involves preventing those with unfair biological advantages from coming in and just crushing everyone and discouraging them. Boys can't just put on a skirt, go win everything, and feel good about it, right - that wouldn't be fair to the rest of the competitors. Well, how about trans athletes? I had a lengthier post on that subject, but most sports governing bodies are coming to a position of "if you want to compete at the highest levels in the Women's division, trans women need to be on testosterone suppressants for at least 12 months before doing so", which seems like a fair compromise. Competing in a women's division isn't a right, it's a privilege, and it's a privilege in order to protect the agency and motivation of all the other competitors.

So, no, it's not just because "someday they might lose to a woman with naturally high testosterone". You have people losing to trans athletes, intersex athletes, and rare biological traits of a number of varieties, only one of which is highlighted here, but all of which are going to be the subject of rulings and arguments over the course of time as we try to get it right and strike a fair balance. Remember how many people were up in arms over trans girls winning high school state championships? They're not up in arms because they don't like the notion of trans athletes, they're up in arms because it hits at their sense of fairness.
 

wade boggs chicken dinner

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I find the Semenya decision odd for several reasons, which we can get into, but that's a specific case you're trying to make a sarcastic analogy to, and I'm speaking of the general case.

Let me start with a story. I coach a co-ed HS team. Recruiting and retaining girls on the team has a wide set of challenges. There are a few who come in with certain skills, or quickly develop them, such that their gender is essentially irrelevant and they can immediately contribute. But others find themselves on the playing field against boys, initially ill-equipped with an ability to make a difference on the field, and get discouraged quickly. They can't make plays, plays are made against them, they contribute nothing and don't really get any better, and their initial joy of playing the sport gets snuffed out and they quit and go do something else. It is, to put it lightly, a bummer both as a coach, and also as a dad, just from an empathy perspective, watching something that may one day happen to my own girls.

Sending girls (or anyone) out to compete on a level playing field is part of what stokes the joy of sports in them, the awareness that it's in their power to get better, and they're out there testing the limits of their own athletic abilities. What constitutes a "level playing field" is a matter of opinion, but surely that's an essential element of making it an enjoyable experience and one they want to prioritize over, ya know, doing theater or violin lessons or any of the million things a kid can go do. It's a necessary element because without it, you can't really have a sense of agency - a sense that you control your own destiny, that you can influence the outcome. Take away someone's feelings of agency in a video game, or in their career, or in an academic setting, and discouragement inevitably results.

Having rules and enforcement bodies in sports is a part of creating that level playing field, and when you've got a Girls / Women division, part of doing so involves preventing those with unfair biological advantages from coming in and just crushing everyone and discouraging them. Boys can't just put on a skirt, go win everything, and feel good about it, right - that wouldn't be fair to the rest of the competitors. Well, how about trans athletes? I had a lengthier post on that subject, but most sports governing bodies are coming to a position of "if you want to compete at the highest levels in the Women's division, trans women need to be on testosterone suppressants for at least 12 months before doing so", which seems like a fair compromise. Competing in a women's division isn't a right, it's a privilege, and it's a privilege in order to protect the agency and motivation of all the other competitors.

So, no, it's not just because "someday they might lose to a woman with naturally high testosterone". You have people losing to trans athletes, intersex athletes, and rare biological traits of a number of varieties, only one of which is highlighted here, but all of which are going to be the subject of rulings and arguments over the course of time as we try to get it right and strike a fair balance. Remember how many people were up in arms over trans girls winning high school state championships? They're not up in arms because they don't like the notion of trans athletes, they're up in arms because it hits at their sense of fairness.
I think I understand what you are saying and if I do, I think you are generalizing from your specific experience. Typically, boys (which I know better) don't stop playing soccer because they think they will be beaten by Messi but because they want to be Messi.

Sounds like to me that your issue isn't one of "level playing field" but that you have one team with players of way too wide a range of abilities. If I had to guess, that probably is because there aren't enough players to field an "A" and a "B" team. But that has nothing to do whether someone at the top is or is not breaking records.

The idea of a "level playing field" in sports doesn't make too much sense in the sports that I follow. It always amuses me when I hear professional athletes talk about how "no one is going to out-work them." Seems to me that most professional athletes - and a lot of non-professional athletes - are spending 30, 40, or 50 hours a week in the gym working our or playing their sport. It's not the work that got them there, it's their natural ability AND - if you want to go further - their natural body type that allows them to work out for 40 hours a week and get better instead of landing in a hospital like I would.
 

Tokyo Sox

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Are you in favor of the Sox signing a guy for the pen who can throw 105 with pinpoint control, or do you think relievers should be capped at 100mph, so as to maintain a level playing field?

What if a girl joins the co-ed team you coach, and she not only fits in quickly but dominates. And she isn’t just better than the other girls, but is by far the best player on the team. Some of the boys are discouraged because they’re losing playing time to a girl. And now fewer boys and girls come out. You’re going to cut her for the good of the rest of the team?

No playing field will ever be exactly level - there will be natural variances amongst the participants. This woman has done no PEDs. She is who she is, and barring her from competition makes no logical sense, and sends the wrong message to any athlete out there training to be his or her best.

This isn’t the trolley problem, nor a situation where the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few. It’s an opportunity for, i dunno, a good coach to teach his players that winning isn’t everything.
 

RIFan

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I think I understand what you are saying and if I do, I think you are generalizing from your specific experience. Typically, boys (which I know better) don't stop playing soccer because they think they will be beaten by Messi but because they want to be Messi.

Sounds like to me that your issue isn't one of "level playing field" but that you have one team with players of way too wide a range of abilities. If I had to guess, that probably is because there aren't enough players to field an "A" and a "B" team. But that has nothing to do whether someone at the top is or is not breaking records.

The idea of a "level playing field" in sports doesn't make too much sense in the sports that I follow. It always amuses me when I hear professional athletes talk about how "no one is going to out-work them." Seems to me that most professional athletes - and a lot of non-professional athletes - are spending 30, 40, or 50 hours a week in the gym working our or playing their sport. It's not the work that got them there, it's their natural ability AND - if you want to go further - their natural body type that allows them to work out for 40 hours a week and get better instead of landing in a hospital like I would.
Well said. Almost all high level elite athletes posses some type of physiological advantage that allows them to compete at the highest level. Michael Phelps produces 50% less lactic acid than other athletes and has higher than average lung capacity among a number of other physical advantages. How many people in the world both possess his set of physical attributes and engaged in competitive swimming as a youth which allowed him to refine technique and peak at his physical maturity? He is probably literally one in a billion. I see absolutely no difference with Ms Semaya. She has a genetic gift that allows her to compete and win at the highest level. Requiring her to alter her body chemistry to compete is abhorrent to me. I thought the Pape article stated the case very well on why she shouldn't be excluded.

There is a level of competition available to almost anyone who wants to compete on a level playing field, but the top of the competition pyramid will never be equal. I see the case for rules that disallow doping and "unnatural" advantages, although I think they are largely a farce given someone is always 1 step ahead.
 

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Are you in favor of the Sox signing a guy for the pen who can throw 105 with pinpoint control, or do you think relievers should be capped at 100mph, so as to maintain a level playing field?
Or, sticking with the youth sports anecdote while pivoting back to Semenya, imposing puberty blockers on everyone to establish a more level playing field.
 

wiffleballhero

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Caster Semenya got a raw deal if for no other reason than she seems to have been subjected to a shifting goalpost on the terms of being a woman and never did anything to actively game the system/ unnaturally increase performance.

None the less, Instaface is restarting a conversation here that hardly is one with easy answers.

http://sonsofsamhorn.net/index.php?threads/transgender-sports.26685/page-2#post-3326286

Women's sports pre-suppose clarity in the sex binary. When that binary slips away, then so too does the stable ground for women's sports. And I don't know how you have it both ways:

1. You maintain a distinct category of sports for women.
2. You don't maintain a distinct category of participants in those sports because the traditional sex binary that was the precondition of the division is no longer valid.

If you say #1 is not about a sex binary at all, but was always about gender, it seems to solve the problem: anyone who has a gender identity that fits the sport's gender division category is good to go.

And yet, if you do this, at least philosophically, you then all of the sudden really don't have a binary from which to start because gender is never a fixed, transcultural binary. The binary is a myth. And also, you lost your causal rationale for the division in the first place: the sense that bodies are naturally different along a binary divide and thus the division for sports, in particular, is coherent.

So the binary you need is not there at all, and yet that binary is the precondition of the division away from an 'open' sports competition.
 
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singaporesoxfan

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No, no, it's not just because "someday they might lose to a woman with naturally high testosterone". You have people losing to trans athletes, intersex athletes, and rare biological traits of a number of varieties, only one of which is highlighted here, but all of which are going to be the subject of rulings and arguments over the course of time as we try to get it right and strike a fair balance. Remember how many people were up in arms over trans girls winning high school state championships? They're not up in arms because they don't like the notion of trans athletes, they're up in arms because it hits at their sense of fairness.
I don't necessarily agree that the science supports your view of trans athletes, but I'll save that for the other thread. I would say that is qualitatively a different case from the Semenya one, where we are talking about the advantages someone is born with. You're making a slippery slope argument but I think it's pretty easy to draw a line between where Semenya is and trans athletes, if you so desire.

What strikes me here is that you seem to think "fairness" is the ultimate goal of Olympic-level running, and that Semenya's high testosterone gives her an unfair advantage. there But we don't do the same with Phelps, as @RIFan mentioned. We don't ask Usain Bolt to run with added weights just because he was born with more fast-twitch muscles. We don't ask Candace Parker to play with some sort of handicap because otherwise her height discourages girls who know they'e never going to be tall from playing. Asking someone to change their body chemistry for the sake of "fairness" is hugely ethically problematic when we accept huge unfair natural advantages in basically every other area of high-level sports, men's and women's competitions alike.

Even at the high school level, we should question whether a sense that something is unfair needs to trump all. Katie Ledecky went to high school near where I live now. Think about how far ahead she was in the Olympics and then imagine how much she trounced everyone else in local swim meets. That she was allowed to take part in high school sports obviously hit at my sense of fairness. But should that mean that there should there have been a separate competition with Olympians excluded? Perhaps, and Ledecky might not have been too torn up about it, but this seems like a bad lesson to teach kids.
 

joe dokes

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Caster Semenya got a raw deal if for no other reason than she seems to have been subjected to a shifting goalpost on the terms of being a woman and never did anything to actively game the system/ unnaturally increase performance.

None the less, Instaface is restarting a conversation here that hardly is one with easy answers.

http://sonsofsamhorn.net/index.php?threads/transgender-sports.26685/page-2#post-3326286

Women's sports pre-suppose clarity in the sex binary. When that binary slips away, then so too does the stable ground for women's sports. And I don't know how you have it both ways:

1. You maintain a distinct category of sports for women.
2. You don't maintain a distinct category of participants in those sports because the traditional sex binary that was the precondition of the division is no longer valid.

If you say #1 is not about a sex binary at all, but was always about gender, it seems to solve the problem: anyone who has a gender identity that fits the sport's gender division category is good to go.

And yet, if you do this, at least philosophically, you then all of the sudden really don't have a binary from which to start because gender is never a fixed, transcultural binary. The binary is a myth. And also, you lost your causal rationale for the division in the first place: the sense that bodies are naturally different along a binary scale and thus the division for sports, in particular, is coherent.

So the binary you need is not there at all, and yet that binary is the precondition of the division away from an 'open' sports competition.

All of this may be true, (especially the part of the shifting goal posts and raw deal), but any conversation dealing with transgender athletes is misplaced here. So while the broader "conversation" doesn't have easy answers, this case does. (IMO, of course).
 

Gdiguy

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Caster Semenya got a raw deal if for no other reason than she seems to have been subjected to a shifting goalpost on the terms of being a woman and never did anything to actively game the system/ unnaturally increase performance.

None the less, Instaface is restarting a conversation here that hardly is one with easy answers.

http://sonsofsamhorn.net/index.php?threads/transgender-sports.26685/page-2#post-3326286

Women's sports pre-suppose clarity in the sex binary. When that binary slips away, then so too does the stable ground for women's sports. And I don't know how you have it both ways:

1. You maintain a distinct category of sports for women.
2. You don't maintain a distinct category of participants in those sports because the traditional sex binary that was the precondition of the division is no longer valid.

If you say #1 is not about a sex binary at all, but was always about gender, it seems to solve the problem: anyone who has a gender identity that fits the sport's gender division category is good to go.

And yet, if you do this, at least philosophically, you then all of the sudden really don't have a binary from which to start because gender is never a fixed, transcultural binary. The binary is a myth. And also, you lost your causal rationale for the division in the first place: the sense that bodies are naturally different along a binary scale and thus the division for sports, in particular, is coherent.

So the binary you need is not there at all, and yet that binary is the precondition of the division away from an 'open' sports competition.
I think this is a really good post.

Sports in general tries to keep things broadly fair - that's why, for example, there's seven weight classes in Judo in the Olympics, because no-one really wants to see a 100kg guy kick a 55kg opponent. The entire 'women's' sport separation was an attempt to broadly achieve that goal, and gender seemed like an easy way to do it.

I'll be honest - I have no idea what I think is the right thing to do here. On the one side, I completely agree that Semenya is getting screwed here, since no other athlete gets penalized for the advantages they're born with. On the other hand, I also find the argument of 'taking supplements to boost your testosterone level is illegal and banned because it's so dangerous, but if you happen to genetically be born with a condition that boosts your testosterone level then go ahead!' uncomfortable... and I'm not seeing a clear path in-between
 

singaporesoxfan

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All of this may be true, (especially the part of the shifting goal posts and raw deal), but any conversation dealing with transgender athletes is misplaced here. So while the broader "conversation" doesn't have easy answers, this case does. (IMO, of course).
Totally. I agree that that men's/women's divisions are binary in a world that has many border cases that may challenge the distinct category of sports for women. On the other hand it strikes me that the specific case of Semenya shouldn't be that border case. She isn't trans. She isn't intersex. In every other aspect of life she falls squarely within the category of what we call "woman". As Alun Williams, one of the expert witnesses on her legal team stated:

It seems clear to me that if someone was assigned female sex at birth, has been reared and socialised as a woman, wishes to remain a woman, has always been legally recognised as a woman and has always competed in sport as a woman, they should be permitted to continue to compete in the female category without discrimination
The whole Williams op-ed is worth reading because he goes into the range of genetic mutations found in DSD women (women with different levels of sexual development), and how these are not particularly exceptional and are comparable to other genetic differences not affected by any regulations.

https://www.independent.co.uk/sport/general/athletics/caster-semenya-case-testosterone-regulations-loses-iaaf-appeal-discriminate-against-her-what-happens-a8894541.html
 

wade boggs chicken dinner

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All of this may be true, (especially the part of the shifting goal posts and raw deal), but any conversation dealing with transgender athletes is misplaced here. So while the broader "conversation" doesn't have easy answers, this case does. (IMO, of course).
I'm not sure that the TG discussion is misplaced here but I can certainly have that discussion outside the thread. The binary gender discussion is absolutely part of this discussion, even without discussing TG. IMO. See this article (I have no idea about the website but the article seems good): https://aeon.co/essays/sports-culture-binds-us-to-gender-binaries-this-is-unfair
 

wiffleballhero

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this case does. (IMO, of course).
I'd agree with you, except that we both agree that they got it wrong. And they likely got it wrong precisely because they could not see their way through to exactly what they were trying to adjudicate.

And they likely could not see what they were trying to adjudicate because they had a really hard time with the terms of the discussion on sex and gender and distinct vs fluid categories.
 
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singaporesoxfan

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I'll be honest - I have no idea what I think is the right thing to do here. On the one side, I completely agree that Semenya is getting screwed here, since no other athlete gets penalized for the advantages they're born with. On the other hand, I also find the argument of 'taking supplements to boost your testosterone level is illegal and banned because it's so dangerous, but if you happen to genetically be born with a condition that boosts your testosterone level then go ahead!' uncomfortable... and I'm not seeing a clear path in-between
Is it really banned because it's dangerous? In my mind I thought the banning of testosterone was twofold: it's banned because you're not suppose to supplement whatever you're born with, and it's banned because that extra testosterone then gives you an unfair advantage. It's similar to blood doping: "blood doping to boost oxygen levels in your body is illegal and banned because you're not supposed to add stuff to your body to give you an unfair advantage, but if you happen to be genetically born with a condition that increases the carrying capacity of your body, go ahead!" and that doesn't seem to be super uncomfortable to me.

If the IAAF goes through and enforces the Semenya decision, I wonder if in future we are going to view the 800m race results in this period as somewhat akin to baseball records pre-Jackie Robinson - yes, these athletes did well, but against a deliberately restricted level of competition.
 

shaggydog2000

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So this is the very edge of our society (and the rest of the societies on this planet) dealing with sex and what it really means. Trans issues are coming up. Instead of saying "that's not real, let those people be inconvenienced" the way that our society once did, we're actually debating issues as silly as where to go to the bathroom. Which is, of course, not silly at all to the people who really need to go to the bathroom right this minute and happen to be trans.

Sports always have had a veneer of of equality, even if inherent biological differences, or economically based equipment or training differences have meant that there are relatively few people capable of competing on the largest stage. This is why doping is seen as such an offense, while unequal training resources or equipment aren't. We like the myth that our athletic heroes are just morally superior or want it more. Trans athletes challenge this because we know men and women are biologically unequal, so much so that we have to separate them for sports. It's pretty natural from this viewpoint to say that Trans athletes (at least when going from Male to female) would have to comply with being as close to biologically female as they can be. I wouldn't say they have to have testosterone of an average non athlete woman, but within the bounds of the athletes they compete against. In a similar way female to male athletes may be allowed to take hormone treatments as part of what would be a normal treatment for trans people, but not so much that it places them out of the bounds of the athletes they compete against.

Semenya is a closely related issue, because she is intersex. Most likely. There haven't been public statements from her or her lawyers about this to my knowledge, but her sex testing results were supposedly leaked and that was the outcome of them. Should we place intersex people in the same framework as trans? It's just as delicate an issue. They're not making an intentional change, and just have a natural biology they were born with. Of course they should be allowed to compete with others. Some were assigned a sex at birth that they don't conform all that much to as they age. Some were treated with hormones to create conformance as they aged. In the same way as trans athletes, should we only allow those that aren't treated with hormones to compete? Should we impose the same hormone limits on them as trans athletes? It mostly makes sense to place them in the same framework, and that's what the IAAF chose to do. It is weird that they limited it to certain running distances though. I understand the idea that we shouldn't punish someone for their natural biology or handicap them unnecessarily, and that sports are never really fair or equal, but if we're going to separate the world into two categories (for sporting purposes), fitting the extras into that framework is going to create issues like this.
 

singaporesoxfan

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