Grant Chapman: Caster Semenya conundrum a bad look for sport

Caster Semenya leaves rivals in her wake
Caster Semenya leaves rivals in her wake. Photo credit: AAP

OPINION: The sad, crazy, confounding case of Caster Semenya has done nothing to make anyone feel good about the direction sport is headed.

Over the past decade, the South African has dominated women's 800m running, winning two Olympic golds and three world titles, and running the eight fastest times in the world over that span.

With notably higher testosterone levels than her rivals, she has proved pretty much unbeatable since winning her first world crown in 2009 and opponents are understandably distraught at what they perceive as an unfair advantage.

It's just another cruel twist to a troubled sporting landscape that struggles to keep up with drug cheats and is also wrestling with the perplexing issue of transgender athletes.

Everyone agrees the dopers should be rooted out and punished - but most of us also know the testers are being lapped by the chemists keeping these fraudsters ahead of the pack.

Recent success at testing backdated samples with modern techniques has only succeeded in exposing cheats well after the fact and has fallen short of awarding Kiwi Nick Willis the Olympic gold medal he deserves, even though the two runners ahead of him at Beijing have since been disqualified.   

Bear in mind, this isn't even the worst era for doping, which is why world athletics has considered wiping the record books altogether and starting again.

No-one agrees on how to treat Kiwi weightlifter Laurel Hubbard, who chose to change genders late in her sporting career, and may or may not have carried over an unfair advantage from her years as a man. That debate still rages.

Again, Hubbard's rivals are screaming blue murder over her presence - some have even changed weight class to get away from her. Outside the sporting community, she is a heroine of the LGBT community.

Now Semenya further muddies the waters. She seems a total innocent - she was born with abnormally high testosterone levels and has simply utilised her God-given advantage to the fullest extent.

Just as others have over the years, without persecution.

Swimming superstar Michael Phelps was apparently assisted through his stunning career by large feet and strangely flexible ankles, which were never legislated against.

Closer to home, Kiwi distance legends Peter Snell and John Walker were supreme physical specimens, who clearly benefitted from well-developed lung and heart capacity. They both won Olympic golds and broke world records, without criticism or limitation.

But because Semenya's advantage is chemical, not physical, it's easy to lump her in with the drug cheats, even if she has done absolutely nothing wrong.

In perhaps the cruellest of ironies - in a sport so focused on catching performance-enhancing rogues - Semenya must now take performance-inhibiting drugs to continue her career.

Even the Court of Arbitration for Sport admits the ruling is "discriminatory, but necessary", which may satisfy Semenya's sporting challengers, but won't silence the human rights campaigners.

This story is far from over.

Grant Chapman is Newshub online sports editor.

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