Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Rules: how they affect Oscar Pistorius, Castor Semenya & trans/transitioned athletes

I have been out of it for so long, I just finished six hours of research on the changes to athletics, disability and women’s sports. Perhaps some of that was due to exercising at the Y and the feeling tonight, after several years of a 'brave face', where I just sat and had tears roll down the cheeks. I go to the Y, not because anyone talks to me, or smiles, or says ‘hi’ back, or because I am included even when in class or anywhere, but because I will not give up. And if I have to suffer the glares and rules of an elitist body organization in an elitist town to do it, I will. We try to joke as we go, and say we dread the ‘zero’s and one’s’ (women’s sizes come from 0 which is for thinner than anorexic models to 16 or so, when I was unable to absorb food I went from 12 to 6-8, so still not THIN enough) who will stare at us like we need to have someone ringing a bell ‘BEWARE! BEWARE! A person with body fat is coming through!” Yesh.

First, I want to congratulate Oscar Pistorius who, in qualifying and going to the World Games (in Aug 2011). He is the first amputee competing equally with able body athletes for the World Title. In the 4X400 relay, Pistorius, who had fought the IAAF for three years, taking them to the Court of Sports Arbitration, and winning in order to be able to run was told, along with the team managers that he could run....but only as the lead/first runner.

Ironically, the reason given was the same for why I can’t play volleyball, basketball, or any other drop-in sports at the Y, Oscar might hurt other runners. The IAAF wasn’t concerned for the guy running on blades making a handoff, but that unless he ran in a SEPARATE lane (you know, separate but equal) they could not ensure the safety of the other runners (you know, the ones that can step sideways while running). Yet another rule created by the IAAF president, Lamine Diack for a single athlete.

The problem is the strategy of the 4X400 means that going first is not his usual position. And his times in a later position would have ensured he ran in the finals. Except, though Oscar was part of the team which qualified in all the heats, politics were made so the South African Bronze medallist would take over a spot in the final run. If Oscar had been kept in (in a later position), his time would have gotten them first, but ever race is different, so who knows. Either way, he was dropped, the team lost to the USA and while Oscar gets a Silver Medal (for running all the qualifying heats), he doesn’t have a moment on the podium at the end.

Oscar also qualified for individual 400 at the world games, and came up through the heats to the Semi-Finals before being eliminated. He was extremely consistant, within 1/3rd of a second of his best time (45.05). He wanted to be in the finals, but it would have meant a new personal best, and a slower day for the international competition.

I am going to try, tomorrow, to write about Tracy Whitbread (currently on a UK ‘celeb: get me out of here!’ show), three time Olympian and world record holder for the Javalin and hyperandrogenism, which is the opposite of the Female Triad (disordered eating, lack of menses and osteoporosis). In a study on the Triad, they found about 30% of females who ate well also had a lack of menses and hyperandrogenism (a mild increase in androgyn). I have written to a specialist in this aspect of female sports medicine to find out why this happens and what exactly does happen.

Tracy Whitbread, yet another female athlete who has been called ‘hermaphrodite’, even though she has a 13 year old son and wrote an autobiography which indicates she most definitely is not. Certain types of British papers like to use that word a lot: sells copy. However, when the BBC made a joke about Tracy, she sued them and won. Go Tracy.

One problem with the IAAF is that it, like the Y, sort of just makes up the rules as it goes along. No greater example of this is Castor Semenya, who fell into the limbo of IAAF gender policy. While the Olympics ruled on gender years ago, including male to female transitioned athletes (and female to male), with the IAAF banning all transitioned athletes, there was no way for any of these athletes to get TO the Olympics.

The gender rule of the IAAF was, ‘if an official feels a female isn’t ‘all female’ then they get a ‘gender test.’ There is no gender test for males. Myron Genel, the endocrinologist who advises the IAAF left Castor Semenya in a Limbo for 11 months, while she waited to hear if she was considered female for racing. He wanted new rules which as he puts it, "..ought to at least eliminate the stigmatization of certain women who people feel 'don't look quite right'," says Genel. So it is more of a ‘what does Genel think a woman should look like…test’

The new rules, only a few months old, finally allow transitioned athletes, but only under onerous and almost lifelong testing. It is to anonymous of course, the same way Caster Semenya’s test, which was leaked BEFORE she went out to run and win the world championship 800 meters, and was then led off by officials was anonymous. Or how there were leaks from anonymous ‘IAAF officials’ on how Castor was intersex, Caster was a male, Caster was a transsexual.

Was Castor Semenya allowed to respond to any of these leaks by IAAF rulings? No. And what is typically a couple hour/day or two test took just under a year to okay Castor to run again. This was the IAAF wanted to be ‘fair’.

Interestingly, in 2006-2007 Canada sports created a panel to look at transgender and transitioned athletes in sports. While refusing a direct interview, they did give a background piece from their conclusions (how Canadian to avoid talking about things…..not always socially accepted), which states: "It is widely assumed that transitioned females compete at an advantage over biologically-born females. There is a growing body of evidence to show that transitioned females actually compete at a disadvantage to all other female competitors,"

Canada has not, however, made any changes to assist transitioned female athletes, or any other province or city. Nor has the IAAF, a body which has shown over and over, and over how they are ready to enact for individual athletes or entire groups, all quoting they are doing it in ‘the fairness of sports.’ But then, it always seemed the rulings were more about keeping the status quo, like the ruling that because the rule was to put the ‘foot’ on the starting block, Oscar, wearing blades and no lower legs, would not be able to run.

I keep wanting to believe in a world of gold, but end up with a world of lead. Onward to Castor and Tracy Whitbread.


Defying gravity said...

I don't know anything about the sports rules, but there have always been a lot of unkind comments and speculation about Fatima/Tracy Whitbread, basically because she doesn't look like the feminine ideal. She was an olympic javelin thrower for goodness sake, of course she's going to have muscles! I haven't heard much recently though, despite her being in the jungle.

swiss life said...

Very interesting

Neil said...

Google just ate my comment. :(

Wasn't Oscar under suspicion of having an unfair advantage at one time?

Can't remember what else I wrote, so
Love and extra-special zen hugs from one excluded person to another.

Baba Yaga said...

I cynically suspect that much of this arises because nice, neat paper categories look so much prettier and more scientific (and therefore advantageous to the status of the people applying them) than the fudges which necessarily arise when applying them to real, complicated people.

And, as your experience at the Y seems to suggest, there's always a hope that maybe the ones who seem more complicated (hmm) will go away.

The inertia of organisations is odd, though: individually, people aren't outright hopeless at accommodating one another, or at least at uninformed willingness. (I know counter-example abound. But still.) Put a dozen not-hopeless people together on a committee, though, and suddenly the barriers to accommodation become insurmountable. Possibly something about collective responsibility and the contagion of fears?

Elizabeth McClung said...

Defying Gravity: She wrote in her autobiography that she needed to increase her body strength because she was only 5'5" and thowing against six foot women. Something did however change her from how she looked at 16-17 to 19 quite dramatically. I don't think she took steroids, but research into the effects of high intensity training on women is only now just showing that the same 'experts' making the rules and calls know virtually nothing, nor have they since they determined that athletics would cause 'nerve disorder' in women and banned them from running distances longer than 800 meter until 1984. Now, women's marathon times are a fraction off of mens.

Neil: google hates me some days, I just sign in as anon and sign it, but I sympathize.

Oscar Pistorus, the head of the IAAF claimed, must have SOME advantage because no man without legs should be able to run that fast, in his opinion. The fact that he uses the exact same blades as ALL the amputee athletes and a comparison on them were done in an earlier piece I did on him. Which is why despite now, I think eight different rules trying to stop him running with able bodied runners, the non IAAF sport authority court overruled the IAAF in weeks.

That however does little good to Oscar Pistorius when he has a final the next day, and though he has run his heats in any position in the 4X400, the president 'decided to make a new rule' - it is very much like after volleyball when, though no one was hurt, or threatened hurt, but just going, "Why are you here in a wheelchair", I am told I can't play volleyball in a wheelchair by the head of the Y. Oscar HAD run that position in dozens of races, and several in the world cup so far, only to have another 'new rule' try to force him out.

So, naw, Oscar hasn't been shown to be cheating, nor has, after two inquiry, there been any advantage found to spring legs over flesh legs, but yes, the IAAF has been shown to be cheating again.

Elizabeth McClung said...

Baba Yaga: I agree that committees are the worst, and something which a couple endrocrinologists could tell someone in 3 hours for some reason takes 2 years once it is to be an 'official position' - though, as the IAAF one has written right into it an escape clause on how individual IAAF officials can override.

I think, like the Y, people do not like change, and also have strong predjudice (sic) - whatever area you are in, talk about disability, or impairment, or fatigue, or work or whatever, and there will be open and overt predjudice (sic) from both males and females. Males usually try to use authority or 'force' to dominate, or order a person to effectively 'shut up' - I mean, when the president makes an announcement which threatens the team which qualified with the highest time AFTER they made it through all the heats....well, it goes a bit beyond ASSISTING athletes to compete, doesn't it?

I also think that most people are cowards (I limit this to the tens to hundreds of thousands in my experience), which is what makes a carer, RN, or someone who not only cares about a person but fights FOR them to be so unique). And that they will either try to force out people who by predjudice they think 'isn't one of us' or doesn't agree with them, or they will do nothing when the vulnerable of those they look down on are attacked. If the internet has shown us one thing, it is that that are millions who have irrational hate, and when able to hide behind a screen (which still logs the ISP, city and more), out it all comes. But where are those who use their own name, and whose word is their bond. I think there are gentlemen and gentlewomen (I don't think 'lady' quite fills what is needed now that women have a voice of their own, and the authority...and possibility to hurt by misusing that authority, to go with it), who do stand up, who will take positive and affirmative action. But not many. Otherwise we wouldn't marvel so much at those who do now for pay when it was what others in a community did for free: run towards a burning building, run towards trouble in order to help.

I have come across many who are unwilling to accomodate. When 1 out of 3 of transit drivers, who, when trained, are told to stop for wheelchairs FIRST, end up, if raining or behind schedule choose to not even allow them to enter a bus, it is hardly ignorant but willing. The same is true of both those, both supervisors and participants at drop in badminton, for example, who make openly hostile statements against people in wheelchairs or women, refuse to play against them in a 'fun, drop-in games for the whole community, any level of skill welcome' - and then there are those who hear it, see it and say and do nothing. It is a bit like lynchings I guess, no point is wondering if the hundreds watching felt bad or not. But yes, I agree, even though who think they want to help, once in committee, grind into dysfunction, sadly.

Linda McClung said...

Thanks for researching and writing about Oscar, Tracy and Caster. I am really happy that Oscar did well but peeved about special rules that are made. Yes, it is very similar to volleyball at the YMCA.

I hope Caster and Oscar both have long careers in front of them and can put up with the crap ignorant people dole out. There aren't enough cheerleaders like you in the world.

GirlWithTheCane said...

I learn so much from reading your blog. :)

I've got a busy weekend ahead, and then I'll get an email off to you...