Monday, July 30, 2012

2012 Olympics, gender policing of females by the IAAF & shackles to limit female elites

Like many, I watch the 2012 Olympics on BBC.

The London Olympics isn’t exactly the collection of amateur athletes trying for personal best anymore, though that might be true for many individuals, politics creeps in more and more. Between the IAAF and the IOC (Olympic Committee) there is a vast majority of old guys deciding what is and isn’t ‘appropriate.’ On the one hand, the idea of athletes not being exhausted with heats, finals and more heats all within a few hours in order to make good TV (compare to the Chariots of Fire film where running races were 1 a day), but based on health needs is the ‘amateur’ aspect which is gone. But as the original organizers felt that the Olympics were to challenge the men and the women were there to give the laurels of admiration and applause, maybe straying from origins isn't all bad. Yet considering the questions about male/female, gender, value and sports that the Olympics bring up, women have moved out of the stands from applause but often are penalized for ‘decorum’ and not sports, or excluded from sports deemed 'not appropriate' (an idea women have been working against at the Olympics for over 100 years).

In gymnastics, a Gold level performance for a female is reduced to sixth place due to penalties based on bra straps showing, or hair not appropriately placed. There is no similar rule for males. The ‘Rings’ are for MEN, as they involve strength, while doing twisting double flips on a beam two inches wide, where a slip causes brain injury is ‘feminine’ and appropriate. It used to be the IOC who policed this and elite female athletes needed to carry with them their 'Certificate of Femininity.' Like Maria Patino, who forgot her certificate at the 1985 World Games. Using a different test, she failed the retesting, due to being an XY female. Ignoring the advise to feign and injury, she came first. The test results came out and her medal were stripped, her records eliminated, her scholarship revoked, her fiance left and she was kicked off the National team. Her appeal took several years, but she finally got her second 'Certificate of Femininity'. Can you imagine the USA men's 4X100 swim team having to scramble because one of them forgot his 'Certificate of Masculinity'? The IOC said, 'No more' and eliminated the gender test entirely.

Why? Because except for one instance in the 30’s, no one was found then or later to be other than female. However athletes like Ewa Klobukowska in 1967 were stripped of metals due to an intersex condition, that one year later (due to the IOC using a DIFFERENT gender test) would have been accepted by the IOC as female.
Instead, a promising multi Olympic gold medal and world record runner was stripped of medals and banned from competing for life. She had to give up sports, got married, pregnant and had a son (while still banned as a cheater and not a female). Only in 1999 did the IOC give her medals back. For an elite athlete, that is part of who you are being taken away, and IOC decided due to damage caused by mistakes and the lack of need for it to stop gender testing.

Last year in 2011, 20 years after the IOC stopped gender testing, the IAAF formally reintroduced it. Based on ‘You know it when you see it’ decision that IAAF male judges had been using; the male dominated IAAF is using gender testing to threaten women who succeed, but do so without enough ‘feminine grace.’

Too bad you can't get to the Olympics, run by the IOC, without qualifying at IAAF events.

Though both men and women produce androgen, of which testosterone is one hormone, the IAAF has stated that testosterone is a ‘male’ hormone, because it builds muscles and strength. But, individual genetic make ups have always played a part in the unexpected success of individuals. For example, athletes from cities at high altitudes do better on field and track events due to the added oxygen in the blood at sea level games like the Olympics. The IAAF have determined the ‘average range’ for men of testosterone. But if a man is twice or three times the top of the ‘average’ range, and that occurs naturally due to a medical condition, that is legal.

The response of
Bruce Kidd, an Olympian and sports rights leader to Alice Drager was, “How can the I.O.C. and I.A.A.F. claim that they support the full inclusion of women when they reimpose a medical test for their very identity? It’s a huge setback for human rights”

The Standford Center for Biomedical Research
agrees, saying it is bad science and discrimination. And published it in the America Journal of Bioethics. That didn’t stop the IAAF instituting the policy before the 2012 Olympics.

One problem is that there is so little testing of what an elite female athlete is or how she develops that no one is sure what ‘normal’ levels for females are?

But according to the IAAF, any female who comes within 55% of a male’s level must be ‘chemically restrained’ or is deemed, ‘not female.’ That is what they will tell you. But the truth is, the IAAF does not care if a woman who looks masculine or has a butch haircut, or is openly a boi comes in 74th. They care if they win. Or come close enough to threaten to get a medal. Because if an organization has stated that hormones that build muscles is MALE, then men will and MUST always be stronger and faster, even if testing show that women may be better in endurance. Which makes any female who wins, and looks muscluar, or wins so much it threatens male records a living counter to the official IAAF statement.

The two cases in the last years, Santhi a teen from India in the Asian games (stipped of medal, declared non female) which resulted her attempting suicide, and Caster Semenya, an 18 year old female from South Africa who burst onto the scene winning the 800 meters at the world championship. Caster then found out while watching TV that the IAAF had stripped her of her medal and her gender didn’t meet the ‘I know she not female when I see it’ IAAF test. South Africa claimed, with good cause, that as the only strong, broader, black female in a group of runners from Russia and Finland, the ‘not feminine’ test was a racial one.

The problem is that with Elite Athletes getting into the World Championships at 16 or 17, from countries where full spectrum testing is rarely done. It is only when they win, or place in medals, does the scrutiny and labels that intersex or genetic conditions, often unkown, are not just cheating, but publicly judged of if you are feminine enough to stay female. That is a heavy stick, and if the IAAF wielded it in secret, like the eight women gender tested for the Olympic games in Atlanta (the last of the IOC gender testing), without names, it might pass as professional. However, the many public releases, the delays in being able to race in ANY gender make the IAAF’s actions punitive, incompetent, or both.

Regardless, while the debate over Caster being a man, or ‘not a real women’ was front page for over a week, it took the IAAF over 11 months to verify, in page 8 news, that she was female.
But these ‘new’ guidelines were in place…for any other ‘suspect’ females. So, don’t act right, don’t look right, and some guy will report you for a gender test. Logically, if ‘testosterone’ is a ‘male hormone’ as decided by the IAAF, any male who falls UNDER the ‘average range’ for men should be disqualified as competing as a man. Or any male beyond a certain amount should be ‘chemically restrained.’ Since the IAAF claims it is all about a level playing field. It is too bad that the IAAF has never seen fit to try to bring or allow females the chance to even participate in so many events one would never know what kind of playing field they see as ‘level’.

But, highlighting the issues around why 10% of the population are LGBTI, but there aren’t any ‘out’ elite athletes, particularly with females, the same time Caster was returning home to wait, and wait, to find out if the IAAF declared her female (which they did AFTER she was unable to defend her world championship title), she returned to the South African rape and murder of Eudy Simelane by three men. Eudy, star of the women’s soccer/football team was an open lesbian, and for over a decade a string of gang-bang rapes sometimes leading to murder was an aspect of South African anti lesbian bias. A documentary filmed 10 years ago explained how often the rapes were paid for by the fathers of the lesbian females, as a type of ‘forced heterosexual’.

If gender testing were not a big enough stick to hold over the heads of all the female participants. The IAAF, targeting the very tactics which Rodger Bannister originally broke the four minute mile, decided late in 2011 that ALL ‘mixed gender’ records for the marathon/half marathon would not qualify for world records. Even though many races for men finish with the leader at or under the women’s world record, the IAAF decided that women running with men gives an ‘unfair advantage’ The number of races which are separate make this decision a direct blow against female marathoners, who had to wait nearly a century to be able to run a marathon in 1984 (after creating female marathons, and campaigning the IOC for decades).

In a spiteful attack on women, the IAAF decision was that all ‘mixed gender’ race records would not count, and that was RETROACTIVE. Which, for the USA meant that the female USA record set in 2009 was eliminated because it was in Chicago, a ‘mixed gender’ race, and now the 1984 record is the ‘official’ USA record. And that Paula Radcliffe's marathon run of 2:15...didn't happen, officially (thanks to retroactive IAAF decisions).

Addendum: (thanks to conmment) The rule is announced in Sept 2011, sport illustrated announced it retroactive in Oct. 2011, but due to an appeal and massive opposition, the retroactive rule regarding eliminating the World record retroactively for Paula Radcliffe was lifted Nov. 2011. So she keeps record of 2:15:25. IAAF November 9th, "The 48th IAAF Congress in Daegu, Korea, approved that from now on, a Women’s World Record on the Road can no longer be set in a race in which the record setter is competing against men. At the same time, however, no announcement was made about existing World Records, some of which were achieved in mixed races." How that applies is still not fully understood by April 2012, at the Boston Marathon, and how woman are to set world records.

So, while the records were gone, and now back, no one knows why after 40 years of IAAF approved mixed races did the men of the IAAF decide that ‘mixed races’ didn’t count for women? Because female marathon runners were getting too good, and because there weren’t any women in the boardrooms to oppose what seemed rational to IAAF
leadership. “Skim the masthead of the IAAF and it's testosterone as far as the eye can see: president; general secretary; treasurer; senior vice-president; all three vice-presidents; all five area representatives – all men.”

While it is clear that Paula Radcliffe, using pacers to move her time up 60 or 90 seconds, was the target of the IAAF decision, along with all those who would now imitate her in order to get the ‘international’ level times to qualify for the Olympics. The retroactive elimination of records brought a surge of anger from marathon runners and organizers, as times that are almost a decade old, because the runner couldn’t see what the IAAF would decide years in the future was legal or not, to be removed was extreme. The against females being able to set records in mixed races is still opposed by marathon organizers, runners and organizations: all except the IAAF.

Men’s records set in mixed gender races remain as ‘world records.’

If the bully boy actions of the IAAF, supposedly in the name of ‘fairness’ and done FOR the athletes supported individuals, that might be tolerable. However, when Caster Semenya ran in the 2011 world championships, losing barely to the Russian female who declared it, ‘a victory for REAL females’: there were no fines or sanctions. And while Caster, the lastest 'gender policing victim' carried the flag for South Africa, several female runners say that she isn’t a ‘real female’ to the press this year without sanction, like Italy's Elisa Piccione, a competitor who states, "For me, she is not a woman."

From Sports Illustrated: "Since her return, Semenya has won several races, but she has not come within four seconds of her Berlin time. In other races, she has finished second or third but looked so effortless that spectators have suggested that she is holding back on purpose so as not to reignite controversy." If she wins, she is 'too male', if she loses, then she must be taking hormones and wasn't 'female' before. A lose/lose situation.

Brittney Gringer, a 6’8” black basketball player has become the latest target of ‘what women should be’.
The level of verbal assaults to her face, about her being a man, being a freak, not a real woman, has forced her coach to have her teammates taunt her relentlessly in scrimmage, to try and dull down the slurs screamed at her during games.

I don’t think a women should have to accept abuse and becoming a ‘non-person’ a ‘non-gender’ if she has the kind of variation that makes males like Lance Armstrong or other male athletes admired. And I don’t think cultural bias of the male heavy IOC and IAAF (who even got a male doctor to make the decisions on what a female athlete ‘should be’). I don’t think it is a conspiracy, I think it is an idiocy. These may be good people, but because they are not stepping back and accepting their own bias, they are making bad decisions, ones which make elite women always under the threat. ‘Don’t be like Paula Radcliffe and succeed too much….or they will retroactively take away your records’, ‘Make sure if you look a bit butch that you run with french nails and in a pink outfit…or your parents will be reading in every newspaper that they didn’t raise a daughter.’

By the by, Paula Radcliffe’s record of 2:15 was the men’s 1960’s Olympic record. In less than 30 years, women have caught up to 70+ years of official male marathons. Female athletes are really starting to fly, and sadly, many are scared of this. Let off the obsessive policing of one gender only, the females, so women athletes can fly to unexpected


Linda McClung said...

Idiocracy is right!! It makes me mad how injust it is that Paula Radcliffe has been stripped of her records. And the whole "i know it when I see it" is beyond stupid and sexist and biased. And yeah, logic would say that if a guy tests higher than normal in the testosterone range he should be chemically restrained or if he's under he shouldn't be considered a male for the event. That just demonstrates how stupid the decisions are. GRRRR!

Christianne said...

Excellent analysis of this topic--how infuriating these double-standards (and the sex-determining "eyeball test") are. I also think that there's a sexist element (in addition to good ol' religious intolerance) driving the decisions to not allow Muslim female athletes to wear their headscarves while competing in certain events like judo--it's as though some people feel ENTITLED to be able to see/ogle/objectify female athletes, and resent anything they do that might occlude their view no matter how important it is to the individual wearing it. Somehow I doubt that men would face the same resistance if they were the ones obligated to cover their hair...

Tina Russell said...

Wow, that’s disturbing. I’d heard of this sort of prejudice but didn’t realize how pervasive, persistent and mean-spirited it all is. It’s sad to see so many strong women’s careers cut short by elaborately rationalized misogyny and ignorance.

Dilan said...

The mixed gender race thing is kinda unique to marathoning-- but the general concept has been around for decades. For instance, you can't set an American high school record against open competition (Jeff Nelson, from my hometown, ran an 8:36.3 2 mile that was never certified as a national record for this reason). And all women's track events were subject to the same rule (a woman who ran in a men's 100 meters could never set a world record no matter how fast she ran). The road races were always an exception, but the real question is an empirical one-- if, in actuality, you DO run faster in open competition (which is certainly true at shorter distances and is theoretically true in a marathon), then it probably makes sense to disallow the records.

What I don't know is whether IAAF studied this or whether they just passed a reactionary rule.

Elizabeth McClung said...

Dilan: Actually Title IX means that there are a lot more mixed events than one would think in the USA. I and eight other women participated in the men's Western Championship in Epee. Then went on to compete in the Women's the next day. I didn't place high enough against the men to change rank, but one woman did.

Much like wheelchair races, often a single race will have two or three classifications doing the race at the same time. And they have no problem seperating the records. If a record is the natural limit for that gender (or in wheelchair racing, the functional body usage), and already altitude, height, fast twitch muscle composition, lung capacity are all ignored, what difference does it matter if it is mixed. Simply having men nearby doesn't make a woman stronger. As you say, do they run any faster empirically?

The problem I have is that no one at the IAAF had a problem for the last several decades of mixed races...until Paula Radcliffe. And even then they wait several years after her London 2:15 run. The type of pack pacing is used within mens marathons, much as it is used in cycling, where one teammate is there to pace the leader.

As to what is possible or impossible regarding female strength, when Ye Shiwen, the 16 year old swimmer went faster today than the fastest male, it only shows that we don't know what is possible. Females have only been able to run over 800 meters in the olympics for 28 years instead of 110+ the men have. To have a woman run under 5:10 a mile for a marathon 20 years ago would be stated as 'impossible' - now we know different.

If or when the women's world record times for the marathon or half marathon go faster than the mens, will the IAAF retroactively take away the mens' records for all those mixed races?

Marathons, which took decades to break into (Boston a classic example), though a woman ran the first Olympic marathon, they simply wouldn't open the gates to let her into the stadium, having 'declared' it impossible for women to run that far, have and are run mixed. To say to women, 'It is okay for the guys but not for you' gives men three to four times the amount of races to compete in. If this was done in tandem with Marathon Organizers, it would make sense, but at least one world Marathon Organization is against the ruling. Whether they will change the races now is yet to be seen, but to penalize someone for a race they ran last decade, or further back when the same organization said, 'No problem, totally legal' is a double standard.

Raccoon said...

I think the phrase "Old Boys Club" must've been coined for events such as these. I mean, I know it wasn't, it was for use in politics, but still…

I haven't been following the Olympics. I watched the opening ceremonies – well, the parts that NBC showed – but I haven't seen any of the events. I was kind of wondering the Chinese swimmer. I'd heard that she won gold in her event by a huge margin. Have they tested her yet?

I guess "I know it when I see it" means if the woman doesn't have large breasts, she's not female? Didn't they get to that part in middle school biology that everyone's size and shape would be different?

The Muslim woman in the judo competition: The only reason she was there was because her country was told that she could wear her headscarf. From what I was understanding, even her competitors were saying to allow her the headscarf.

The testosterone argument is illogical. From my readings, it seems that testosterone, in some amount, is necessary for an orgasm in a woman. Not necessarily the less testosterone, the smaller the orgasm, but it is necessary.

McLennan said...

The IAAF council member Helmut Digel said "The record will stay. Nobody will cancel the record of Paula. That is sure, her record will never be diminished."

I googled "Radcliffe IAAF record" and found that "Paula Radcliffe keeps her marathon world record in IAAF about-turn" happened in Nov 2011.

Olivia said...

What you describe is a great microcosm of the patriarchy - hard at work keeping the system going. Illogical and paranoid, and yet still seeming sensible and normal to most - if you don't think about it too hard - as we are all socialised to think it's normal (even necessary).

Elizabeth McClung said...

McLennan: Thanks. See, this is what happens when I trust the NY Times, instead of the Guardian. Yes, due to a wave of protests, they are keeping her record. Thanks for pointing that out.

"Digel said the IAAF was taken aback by the vehemence of the protests, and that the rule was not meant to diminish previous performances. "It was not against old records at all," he said. "We realise that these performances were excellent performances.""

Elizabeth McClung said...

Raccoon: I read that as well, about orgasms, or at least sexual drive - which would explain the peaks being high for females in the 30's while males are in the teens/20's (on average, as I have known some extremely randy 60 and 70 year old women as well as a male 'sexual service provider' in his 70's who went to several women per day (my mind wonders how one gets into that as a job).

Dilan said...


The issue about open competition is sport-dependent. In RUNNING events, and only in running events, competing against a group of generally faster individuals can allow you to run a better time. (That's certainly what happened with Nelson-- his best time in High School against High School competition was 8:49, and he ran his 8:36 against world class distance runners in an open meet.)

And this didn't start with Radcliffe. This has been known for a long time, and the IAAF has had a rule that I believe dates back to the start of women's athletics (track) that states that a woman who competes against men in a running race is not eligible to set a world record. For instance, Carmeleta Jeter cannot run in a race with Usain Bolt in it in the hope that having a runner in front of her to run at will cause her to run faster than Florence Griffith Joyner's current world record. That's NEVER been legal, for the same reason that a record is invalidated if the runner is "paced" (meaning if someone runs alongside of the course). People run faster when they have a target to shoot for.

The thing is, there was an EXCEPTION to that rule for road races, because most women's marathons were actually co-ed and it would leave very few opportunities to set a world record if women were not allowed to run against men. The question the IAAF is confronting is whether that exception should stay in place. And the justification for it not staying in place would be that (1) women marathoners run significantly faster in open competition and (2) there are enough women's marathons available for women to set the record in. Those are empirical questions. They are either true or not. And I don't know the answer to them. I hope the IAAF studied them before making the change.

By the way, this is hardly unprecedented or unique to the Paula Radcliffe record. When the switch was made to fully automatic timing in the 1970's, a whole bunch of previous world records were invalidated because no electronic timers had been used. The rules changed, and the records previously set were no longer records under the new rules.

Another example was when they changed the javelin implement in the 1980's. Again, all the old records were wiped from the books.

This stuff happens, as the definition of what constitutes a "record" can change over time.

l said...

Fascinating (and not terribly surprising) analysis of these issues. Thanks as always for sharing your insights...

We're going to be on the road to visit my 91-year-old aunt in Oregon, so I may not be commenting but we will be reading and keeping tabs on how you two are doing...


Lorna Bob and Liam

Neil said...

Screw Bronze? Screw the Olympics. It's all for money now, anyway, and the double standards everywhere are just an embarrassment for sport. Is this athlete female? Can that swimmer really shave 5 seconds off her personal best time? Can that runner with no lower legs have an advantage over "able-bodied" athletes? Should we allow professional athletes to compete, and how do we define "professional?"

I've got better things to do with my time than listen to all the controversy and watch all that money being wasted in the name of product placement.

Neil said...

Sorry about the negative tone of my last comment, Beth, but I am appalled at the cost of putting on the Olympics; and appalled at the double standards, prejudice, and discrimination in various sports.

That being said, I would watch some of the events if they were televised, and if I could watch the broadcast - my work schedule dosn't take into account the potential time differences in various parts of the world.

Love and zen hugs,

Neil said...

I'm going throught the Battlefords on my way to a medieval event in the morning; I'll blow a raspaberry at the city limits for you. :)

And I'll be back Monday; the kids aren't coming this time, so at least we don't have to make arrangements to have the cat looked after.

Love and zen hugs,