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IOC panel of medical experts apparently recommends that people who are somehow different from the standard rough categories of “male” and “female” should be allowed to compete, but be treated for their disorders. Setting aside the problematics of defining deviations from the norm as disorders requiring treatment I am left wondering what the true motivations are behind the thinking that one type of genetic advantage is “fair” while some other is “unfair”. After all, I am pretty sure that Usain Bolton has more favorable genes for running fast than I have, but few would consider this as an unfair advantage. Personally, I would not miss anything if competitive sports would disappear from the face of the earth tomorrow and the Semenya case has revealed the inherent absurdity of splitting the sports into two groups, one for men and the other for women.

One quotation in the NYT article is revealing: “If you start to do this you are making a joke of the fact that there are two classifications — male and female,” said Doriane Coleman, a law professor at Duke University”. A thinking person would conclude that since there ARE plenty of people who are hard to categorize either as male or woman, “the fact that there are two classifications — male and female” is no fact at all, but at best a statistical statement about probability distributions! However, this doesn’t seem to have crossed Colemans mind whose “facts” are apparently independent of the reality around her.

I read somewhere speculations that the fundamental motivation for sports-like activities, is that success in them would be an “honest signal” about competitors worth (strength, perseverance, health etc.)… a bit like a peacocks tail, for example. In sports competitors can display themselves and the audience can rank and judge who are the “most worthy”. For this to work, however, the rules of the game should be such that persons with those qualities we value, should rise to the top. Otherwise the signal is no longer “honest”. Maybe this is why so many people feel that allowing women with unusually high testosterone level (for example) to compete, is unfair. It is not what they admire in a woman and consequently such women should not win. On the other hand, few seem to have a problem with men having unusually high levels of testosterone. This makes sense, if these people admire “masculine” guys.

The medical experts recommend “treatment” for those women who have unusually high testosterone levels, to get these levels closer to the average. I wonder if they would recommend the same for men and maybe even recommend allowing the use of hormones for those male athletes who have unusually low levels of them “naturally”. I am afraid that is not what they would have in mind, since that would be “unfair”.

I send a Letter to the Economist pointing out what I think as an absurdity of them discussing womens difficulty in combining family and careers without mentioning the the role of the “other” parent at all. Perhaps unsurprisingly the letter was heavily edited so I post the full comment here.

“Sir, In your January 2nd issue you remarkably managed to discuss the challenges women face in combining family and career without ever mentioning the role of fathers. To make your purge of fathers complete, you even chose to call the parental leave as a maternity leave. How strange! Rather than coming up with new ways by which we can continue to make the unreasonable demand of combined career and lone responsibility for the family on women, maybe we should try to ensure that the declining role of men in the labor market is matched by their increasing responsibilities at home. More equal sharing of parenthood would not only give both parents a better chance in forming a close relationship with their children and make it easier for women to build their careers, but would also share the costs of parenthood more equally between parents employers.

In fact, under such circumstances an employer might consider twice before hiring a male high-flier. After all, while his female colleaque has most likely finished making babies after few years, he just might keep having them throughout his career! The fact that employers do not share the costs of parenthood, acts as an affirmative action policy for men. Surely, we can survive without such a handout.

Jani-Petri Martikainen
Stockholm, Sweden”

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