Dutee is a Woman and Let Her Run, Say Experts in Petition to World Athletics Body
By Krithika Gopalkrishnan | Published: 12th October 2014 06:05 AM |
CHENNAI: “What’s done cannot be undone,” wrote William Shakespeare centuries ago. It holds good even today. In 2009, when South African athlete Caster Semenya was subjected to a gender test, she told a South African magazine, “I see it all as a joke, it doesn’t upset me. God made me the way I am and I accept myself. I am who I am and I’m proud of myself.” She was later cleared by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF). Semenya was 18 then.
A similar case surfaced in India earlier this year. Another 18-year-old by the name of Dutee Chand was banned because she was not “woman enough.” The sprinter missed out on the Commonwealth Games and World Junior Championship. Like Semenya, Dutee too has managed to garner support from across the world.
Petition to IAAF
Last month, renowned American anthropologist Katrina Karkazis and Dutee’s advisor Dr Payoshni Mitra filed a petition to the IAAF titled ‘Let Dutee run! Don’t ban women athletes for high natural testosterone’ on Change.org. A few days later, Dutee formally started a Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) appeal against her indefinite ban. In fact, Dutee is the first to challenge the rules the IAAF introduced in the wake of the Semenya episode.
Karkazis said she was taken aback by Dutee. “I have met her on Skype and to be honest I was a bit starstruck. When you think about what she has done, at 18, it’s testament to the human spirit. I told her she was making history. I wanted her to understand the magnitude of what she was doing. She is an extraordinary athlete, but also an amazing young woman. One of my greatest wishes is to meet her in person,” Karkazis told TNIE.
Associated with the Stanford University since 2003, Karkazis said she first learned of Dutee’s case on July 15 through a newspaper report which said she was ruled ineligible for the Commonwealth Games. “I had been in contact with Payoshni for several years because of our work on this issue and I finally met her in London at the 2012 Olympic Games. The day I read the newspaper report, I emailed Payoshni and we’ve been working together since then to help Dutee run again,” she said.
What was the driving factor behind filing a petition? “When we started it, we didn’t know how her case might be resolved and whether her case would go to the CAS. And yet we were seeing a lot of public support for her, so the petition felt like a way to channel all of the public support for her into one voice,” said Karkazis, who has been researching on “gender verification” policies for elite female athletes. At the time of writing this article, 4576 supporters had signed the petition.
Policy Draws Flak
The IAAF’s hyperandrogenism regulations have drawn flak from experts across the world, terming it unfair and unscientific as they are based on genetic traits. “It takes a lot for someone to challenge this policy and it is why I marvel at Dutee’s courage. It is very easy to think because of the way the policy is framed that the athlete being targeted is in need of medical intervention. That is a very powerful argument to come up against, which is why in so many of the early reports you see talk of her simply needing “treatment” and then she can run again even though Dutee is a healthy woman,” explained Karkazis.
Livelihood at Stake
“Another factor is that the pressure on these athletes to remain eligible is extraordinary. In some cases, their career is the livelihood for their family. So I understand why it would be very hard to challenge this because it requires an interruption to one’s career, and the toll that takes is huge. When you add in the media spotlight and sometimes stigmatising reports that claim the investigation challenges who she is, well, you can see why the pressure to simply comply can be so strong. In other cases there has been no one like Payoshni to explain this very complex issue in very neutral terms to the athlete. So Dutee, SAI, and even India are very lucky that Payoshni was there to do that. Other athletes may not be so fortunate.”
In many cases, even if the athlete is successful in his/her appeal, it’s too late. Should a ‘fast-track’ clause be included in such cases? “This is a wonderful point because if one’s career is only a few years, being sidelined for 6 months or more is a huge derailment and toll,” said Karkazis. “When men are found to have high testosterone levels, officials quickly determine whether they are produced naturally or via doping. If they are natural, the case is closed. I want the same treatment for women.”