British Runner Lynsey Sharp’s Comments About Gold Medalist Caster Semenya Are Just Racist And Sexist
On Friday in Rio, South Africa’s Caster Semenya won gold in the women’s 800-meter final, and her British competitor Lynsey Sharp could not deal. In a post-race TV interview, Sharp suggested Semenya shouldn’t compete against other women due to her high testosterone levels. “It is out of our control,” she told BBC Sport, but “we rely on people at the top sorting it out.”
Semenya has a condition called hyperandrogenism, which means her testosterone levels are above the lowest standard testosterone levels found in men. The International Association for Athletics Federations (IAAF) used to require female athletes with hyperandrogenism to undergo testosterone suppression in order to compete as women. However, the Court of Arbitration for Sport overturned IAAF’s ruling, thus allowing Semenya and others to compete without having to mess with their bodies’ natural hormone production.
This hasn’t stopped some critics (read: sexists and racists) from claiming that competing as a woman gives Semenya an unfair advantage. It’s not like any other Olympic athletes have non-standard body composition, right? It’s not like Michael Phelps has extra long arms and hyperflexible double-jointed feet, which give him an advantage over other swimmers — oh, wait. Yet there’s no controversy over whether he should be allowed to compete against swimmers without those physical attributes. So why should extra testosterone matter?
Partially it’s a sexist belief that women’s physical prowess is inferior to men’s. If a woman has higher than average levels of testosterone, the thinking goes, she must be more male and therefore automatically better at sports. It’s also rooted in racist perceptions of black women as inherently unfeminine; just look at descriptions of Serena Williams as “manly” and “savage,” or the speculations that she might actually be male, because she’s a black woman who’s awesome at sports. Also, people have questioned the testosterone levels of Semenya’s fellow 800-meter medalists, Burundi’s Francine Niyonsaba and Kenya’s Margaret Wambui, both of whom are black African athletes like Semenya. Coincidence? Hell no.
Although Sharp now claims she has a “a tremendous amount of respect for Caster,” her other comments on the issue tell a different story. Prior to the Olympics, she told The Daily Telegraph that Semenya’s inclusion in women’s competitions created “two separate races.” Pretty fucked up. Even more so given that all the 800-meter medalists are black women, while Sharp and the fourth and fifth place finishers (Canada’s Melissa Bishop and Poland’s Joanna Jóźwik) are white.
Message to the haters: Semenya won because she’s an amazing runner. She trained hard, she practiced, she pushed herself, and she got that gold. Deal with it. And in the meantime, maybe think about why you’re so opposed to the idea of a black woman being rewarded and celebrated.