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”.