Before I began writing, I was a high school coach in athletics. After that, I was a college coach and finally, a junior college coach. While I have read many books on coaching athletics, my most important lessons have been, well anecdotal. What do I mean?
I was fortunate to have had tremendous coaches, from Rich Grawer, Jim Marheinecke, Ralph Passerelli, S.J. (DeSmet), to Terry Ward (Bellarmine), Santa Clara (Dan Durante) and while coaching at Foothill, worked with the late Hank Ketels and Joe Mangan.
Joe and I would have picked up some beef jerky and sunflower seeds, and spent 3 hours driving to a meet discussing the conundrums with Semenya vs. IAAF.
In its imperious style, I sometimes think of the IAAF as the Catholic Church in the Renaissance, as they dealt with Galileo. Much of what was decided then was found to be incorrect a lifetime later. Something had to be done, but few seem completely happy with the decision.
I recall hushed conversations about Caster Semenya in 2009 in Berlin. I recall the booing of Semenya, and her consternation. In 2009, she was not privy to what would haunt her for the next decade. As Caster Semenya has been harassed, Lynsey Sharp, who did her thesis on DSD athletes, has had death threats throughout the CAS process.
CAS is right, the decision that they made on 2 May will be the most important decision that they have made in 35 years. But, alas, it is not over. The IAAF missed the time to end this controversy a decade ago. Now, their imperious nature makes them easy prey.
I have interviewed Caster Semenya many times. I truly like Caster, and see her humanity. I also see that the IAAF is caught in a no win situation.
I am asking that, as Stuart Weir asks below, that we take the time to consider both sides. Lives are affected.
Ben Bloom (Daily Telegraph) excellently sums up the Caster Semenya affair: “The most difficult aspect of the Caster Semenya debate is that no one is definitively wrong. It’s well worth listening to both sides”. Steve Magness in a series of tweets gives a valuable commentary on the judgment. Sean Ingle (Guardian) wrote an account of the court proceedings, based on conversations with people who were present. Rick Broadbent (The [London] Times) suggests that there are three questions which need answering.
1) How would you define who is eligible for women’s races.
2) Are you convinced by the IAAF research?
3) How has women’s athletics been “saved” when the rule applies to 5 of 23 Olympic events?
These are all excellent reflections which you can find on Twitter. The depth of thinking and analysis is commendable, which all made Seb Coe’s comments at the Doha Diamond League press conference the more embarrassing in their naivety. Now I fully understand that The IAAF President did not want the Doha Diamond League presser to be highjacked by the issue, but it would surely have been better to have said nothing that to offer two sentences as if that was all that needed to be said.
Coe said: “Athletics has two classifications. It has age, it has gender. We are fiercely protective about both and I am really grateful that the Court of Arbitration has upheld that principle.” Clearly Coe disagrees with Ben Bloom, believing that anyone who disagrees with his simplistic summary is wrong.
Coe speaks as if the Cas has given the IAAF a ringing endorsement. It was in reality a split decision with a number of caveats. Anyone who follows boxing knows that a split decision is unsatisfactory – even without the series of caveats.
It is also a remarkable state of affairs when the governing body is telling athletes to take drugs! We are used to seeing athletes wearing “I run drug free” t-shirts. Will we now see T-shirts “I run with the drugs IAAF tells me to take”?
For me the heart of the matter remains that I believe it is unethical to require an athlete to take drugs for which there is no medical necessity and which may have nasty side-effects.
This is a complex issue. Like Ben Bloom, I see both sides. I also see a wonderful human being who has brought so much to our sport and I am not comfortable with how she is being treated.
The following pieces are referenced by Stuart Weir. Take the time to think this one out.