Opinion: What counts as fairness in sports?

Caster Semenya and the extent to which sporting will go to exclude athletes who are different

Opinion: What counts as fairness in sports?

The Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) has erred by failing to overturn a series of discriminatory rules that target female athletes who are transgender or have intersex traits.  

By ruling in favour of the International Association of Athletics Federation (IAAF), the CAS has authorized regulations that require female athletes with naturally high testosterone levels — typically found in intersex women — to suppress their hormone levels if they wish to compete in races between 400 metres and a mile.

At the centre of this controversy is South African runner Caster Semenya. Semenya, who issued an appeal against the IAAF rules, has dominated the women’s track and field scene for the past decade. As a two-time Olympic gold medalist and a three-time World Champion in the women’s 800-metre race, Semenya has faced unrelenting scrutiny. Like several other intersex women who will be penalized by the new rules, Semenya identifies and competes as a woman.

In order to race, she has four options: either take hormonal contraceptives up to six months before competing; compete alongside men; compete in other events not subject to the regulations; or cease competing entirely. Even if Semenya gives in and undergoes hormonal treatment to lower her testosterone levels to the IAAF requirements, the possible side effects of the treatment may negatively impact her health and further prevent her from racing against other women in the events of her choosing.

The IAAF has argued that their new rules — which came into effect on May 8 — are intended to ensure fairness in women’s track and field. This argument is supported by the perceived correlation between testosterone and enhanced athletic performance.

It is commonly believed that an increased amount of testosterone can improve strength and speed levels. The IAAF and supporters of this ruling have relied heavily on this perceived correlation to argue that Semenya holds an “unfair advantage” over other women in her sport because of her naturally elevated levels of testosterone.

However, wouldn’t it be fair to argue that many successful athletes possess natural advantages that give them an upper hand in their respective sports? It’s no secret that height is beneficial in sports such as volleyball and basketball. Should the IAAF ban tall women from competing in basketball and volleyball matches to ensure fairness in these sports?

Take 23-time Olympic gold medalist Michael Phelps. Phelps not only possesses an exceptionally long arm span and reportedly double-jointed ankles, but also produces significantly smaller amounts of lactic acid compared to his competitors. Lactic acid build-up contributes to muscle fatigue, and because Phelps produces less while competing, he holds an advantage over his competitors. Yet, Phelps is not required to undergo treatment to elevate his lactic acid. We still continue to praise him for his athletic achievements while discounting Semenya for hers.

The natural testosterone that Semenya produces differs from the exogenous testosterone which has been prohibited in the Olympics since 1976. The correlation between testosterone and enhanced performance is believed to be linked to the use of synthetic testosterone.

It has yet to be proven whether the same correlation exists for its natural counterpart in female sports. There is a possibility that natural testosterone improves performance, but this prospect is offset by the likelihood that it is unrelated to athletic capabilities. As reported by the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, there is “no clear scientific evidence”  of a relationship between the two in female sports.

The argument that women with higher testosterone levels hold an unfair advantage is also based on the outdated association of testosterone with masculinity. Traditionally, it has been understood that there is a crucial distinction between men and women in terms of athletic ability, since it was assumed that men typically have more testosterone than women.

Categorizing testosterone as the sex hormone that exclusively belongs to men not only falsely categorizes women with naturally high levels of testosterone as somehow unwomanly, but also neglects the fact that women produce and rely on testosterone to survive as well.

The preoccupation with the role that testosterone plays in fuelling athletic performance also underestimates the importance of external factors, such as income, which play as much of a role in contributing to athletic success as do physical capabilities alone.

Large income disparities across the globe disadvantage athletes who are the product of lower-income environments. These athletes do not have access to the same quality facilities, coaching staff, treatment, or even the support system that are generally present for athletes living in more affluent areas.

U of T Professor of Kinesiology and Physical Education Bruce Kidd reflects similar sentiments in his article. There, he remarks: “Would Canadians who support the IAAF against Semenya like it if they were required to train under the same conditions as their competitors from the Global South? Of course not.”

The new IAAF rules also draw criticism because it seems to unfairly and unnecessarily target Semenya and other female runners from the Global South. An IAAF study on the effects of natural testosterone reveals that it has a greater influence on performance in events such as the hammer throw and the pole vault.

On the contrary, there is a much weaker correlation between natural testosterone and athletic capabilities in the 1500-metre race. Yet women with higher testosterone levels have not been barred from competing in the hammer throw and the pole vault, but have been banned from competing in the 1500-metre race.

This finding is especially daunting considering the fact that events, such as the hammer throw and the pole vault, have historically been dominated by white women from the West. Black women from the global South have typically been victorious in long-distance running events, thus leading some to believe that the IAAF’s policy may be racially motivated.

In response to the CAS’s rejection of Semenya’s challenge to the IAAF rules, the South African Sports Ministry has declared that their track federation, Athletics South Africa, will appeal the decision. Canadian Minister of Science and Sport, Kirsty Duncan, has condemned the ruling, saying that it exhibits “a total disregard for human dignity.” Furthermore, Semenya has vowed to continue running, even stating that she will not give in to the new rules and take hormone suppressants.  

The unjust IAAF rules call for society to re-examine our traditional beliefs about fairness in sports. Is it fair to publicly humiliate intersex women on the unfounded belief that their genetics give them an unfair advantage over other women? If the goal is to ensure an equal playing field for female athletes, the IAAF should focus on securing equal access to adequate training facilities, coaching staff, and athletic gear, instead of resorting to inhumane measures that single out certain athletes because they are different.

Blues open 2018 track and field season with 13 podium finishes

Lucia Stafford and Anthony Kwan claim gold

Blues open 2018 track and field season with 13 podium finishes

On January 6, the Athletic Centre hummed with energy. Athletes, resplendent in their school colours, milled about the wide oval room. The air was cool but electric, punctuated regularly with the sharp crack of the starting gun.

The annual Sharon Anderson Memorial Meet had arrived — and with it, a horde of spandex- and lycra-clad students. Michelle Corrallo was the first Varsity Blue to perform in the 60 metre hurdle heats, achieving a sixth place finish at 9.69 seconds.

Anderson was followed by three more Blues: Anthony Kwan, Philippe Johns, and Steven Wilkens-Reeves in the men’s 60 metre hurdles. All three finished on the podium. Kwan came first with 8.55, Johns second with 8.78, and Wilkens-Reeves third with 9.03. The smaller heats leading up to the finals were quite friendly — the athletes often patted one another on the back or shook hands after they’d body-slammed the back pads at the end of track.

The hurdles were then cleared away for the 60 metre sprint heats, with Anne Gauthier, Marta Bogacki, Phoebe Simmons, Carolyn Solek, and Akeil Zarudny showing up for U of T. Waves of heats flowed furiously over the short expanse of track, runners gushing over the finish line every few minutes. Once finished, the runners idled around the track, waiting to hear if they’d qualified for the finals in a surprisingly relaxed atmosphere.

As the morning continued, the track area only grew more crowded. The finish line was padded on both sides with teammates and spectators. The meet began to transition to longer distance time trials, and the lap counter took its forbidding stance on the track. Alexander Bimm and Jake Carroll kicked things off for the longer distance Blues, striding easily through the 1,000 metre men’s timed race, finishing second with 2:31.85 and fourth with 2:34.10, respectively.

Next, Lucia Stafford loped through her 1,500 metre timed race, striking the track powerfully. The 19-year-old engineering student, whose record-breaking rookie year landed her a trip to Poland for the IAAF U20 World Championships, left her mark again. She took a wide first place, finishing with a solid 4:25.19, more than five seconds ahead of the second place finisher. She was followed by Zach Frangos in the men’s 1,500 metre; he ran a clean race in 4:17.92 and finished 10th in a stacked field.

A different kind of activity buzzed within the wide blue track, where the field events — including weight throw, shot put, long jump, high jump, triple jump, and pole vault — took place. Two jumps stood at either end of the inner circle, framing the action. First to take the leap for Toronto were Sarah Czmorek and Brittany Salmon in the women’s pole vault. They pounded over the brief stretch of track to gain speed before launching themselves over the barrier and plummeting to the mats below — Salmon placed third with a final height of 3.75 metres, Czmorek took seventh with 3.20 metres.

They were followed by Emily Branderhorst in the women’s high jump, the only Blues athlete to participate in the event; she tied for second with a final height of 1.6 metres. Next to take to the skies was Alexander Lau in the men’s pole vault, who moved dynamically over the barrier to take second place with a 4.25 metre finish. Tess McDonald closed things off on the field side with her second place performance in the women’s triple jump.

After a brief lunch break, the races resumed with the 60 metre finals. Zarudny had the best final result, finishing tenth with 7.29 seconds. None of the other Blues women placed in the top 10. After those frenetic bursts of energy, the shorter time trials began with the 600 metre and 300 metre timed sections, starring Alexander Bimm and Mateusz Krekora for the men’s 600 metre and Carolyn Solek for the women’s 300 metre. Bimm stole second in 1:22.92, while Krekora landed in seventh with 1:25.16.

As the meet crept toward its final events, athletes who’d completed their day’s work settled in with snacks and hefty doses of Gatorade to watch their teammates compete in relays.

For the everyday individual, stripping down to tiny shorts and running furiously around a rubber oval for a day likely doesn’t sound very enticing. Nevertheless, the Athletic Centre was brimming with people who were eager to compete. The Blues made their mark, leaving with 13 podium finishes and another golden performance from Stafford. As the season continues, athletes and spectators alike have a lot to look forward to.

U of T track stars attack Rio

Four U of T track and field athletes to represent Canada at Olympic games

U of T track stars attack Rio

Although they were missing from the opening ceremonies, Canada has sent, arguably, its best track and field squad to the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio.

Among the 65 athlete roster — including London 2012 bronze medalist in the men’s high jump, Derek Drouin, and 100m sprinter, Andre De Grasse, are four female athletes: Alicia Brown (women’s 400m and women’s 4x400m relay), Gabriela Stafford (women’s 1,500m), Andrea Seccafien (women’s 5,000m), and Micha Powell (women’s 4x400m relay), who are not only representing Canada, but U of T as well.

Alicia Brown

Graduating with a bachelor of Communications, Culture, Information and Technology from U of T in 2013, Brown had an incredible intercollegiate career with the Varsity Blues. In 2013, she was the winner of both the provincial and national 300m titles, and was also a member of the national record-breaking women’s 4x200m relay team. Brown was also named U of T’s 2013 female athlete of the year. 2013 was a breakout season for Brown, who, along with all of her university accolades, won the national championship for the 400m.

After graduation, Brown continued to train with Blues sprint head coach Bob Westman and competed for the University of Toronto Track and Field Club (UTTC) where, this year, she crushed the women’s 400m Olympic standard and won the national championship in a personal best time of 51.84. Alicia competed in the preliminary heats of the women’s 400m on Saturday, August 13, where she placed 28th. You can catch her again in the women’s 4x400m relay on Friday, August 19 at 7:40 pm.

Micha Powell

Joining Brown on the Canadian women’s 4x400m relay squad is 21-year-old Micha Powell. Powell, who trains with the University of Toronto Track Club, had a successful season competing in the NCAA Division I Track & Field championships for the University of Maryland, where she holds the indoor and outdoor 400m records. Although the decision of which four of six possible athletes will be chosen to run in the four-woman relay lingers, with a personal best 400m clocking in at 51.97, Powell is a strong contender to represent Canada next Friday in the 4x400m relay preliminaries.

Gabriela Stafford

Third-year U of T psychology student Gabriela Stafford is the third track and field athlete to represent Canada and U of T in Rio. The 20-year-old middle distance phenom will take to the track in the women’s 1,500m event where she has clocked a personal best time of 4:06.53. Stafford is no stranger to success — her career as a Varsity Blue has seen her win multiple accolades, including a silver at the 2015 CIS Cross-Country Championships, two individual golds at the 2016 CIS Championships (over 1,000m and 1,500m), as well as several provincial titles. Stafford booked her trip to Rio after finishing first at the Canadian National Track and Field Championships back in July where she dominated a field of senior athletes in the 1,500m final.

Andrea Seccafien

A member of the UTTC, 5,000m specialist Andrea Seccafien booked her ticket to Rio at the Canadian Olympic Track and Field Trials in July by winning the 5,000m event with a time of 16:00.41.

After sitting out last season due to injury, Seccafien, who is a University of Guelph Alumni, joined the UTTC and has had a stand-out season, winning the prestigious Hoka One One Middle Distance classic in Los Angles where she clocked a personal best 15:17.81 — placing her well below the Canadian Olympic standard. Andrea raced on Tuesday, August 16, at 8:30 am, in the 5,000m preliminaries at Olympic Stadium in Rio. She ranked 20th after the race.

Women’s track and field sweeps national championships

“Who run the world? Girls.”

Women’s track and field sweeps national championships

The Varsity Blues women’s track and field team are now defending national champions. The squad, led by veterans Rachel Jewett and Julia Stille, dominated another season, sweeping the CIS championship for the second year in a row.

Despite the banner win, the Blues’ season didn’t start the year on a high. The squad fell to the Guelph Gryphons during the OUA championships, finishing in second place.

Even with gold medal winning performances by Jewett and Stille in the 600m and triple jump, respectively, and a stand-out performance by third-year Danielle Delage in the high jump, the Blues couldn’t overtake the Gryphons.

The Blues managed to ward off the third place Western Mustangs by one point, finishing with 131 total points to the ‘stangs 130.

The national championships hosted by  York, however, became another success story for the Blues, who rallied after their disappointing conference loss to take the CIS championship.

Day one of the competition saw an incredible 60m race by fourth-year standout Madeline Warren, who placed fourth in the event, tying her personal best of 7.61 seconds. “I’m quite happy with my individual performance, I came into CIS ranked 6th and ended up coming 4th overall [so] It was… super exciting,” said Warren. “I was excited to contribute five points to the team and bump out a couple girls who were ranked ahead of me.”

The first day concluded with another fourth-place finish by sophomore Carolyn Adams in the pentathlon competition. Adams finished with a total of 3,756 points, but she missed the podium by a 68 point margin to Saskatchewan’s Astrid Nyame.

The Blues carried their momentum into day two of the competition. The women’s squad took home three medals in the 1,000m, 3,000m, and 4x800m relay to put them in second place behind the Gryphons, going into the third and final day of competition.

A gold medal performance by third year Gabriela Stafford in the 1,500m race opened the floodgates for the Blues on the last day of the competition, as the squad went on to take home four more medals, edging out the Gryphons in the final standings by 14 points.

Blues head coach Carl Georgevski was named coach of the year, and Stafford, who would go on to place tenth at the world indoor championships in the 1,500m, won the outstanding female athlete of the year award.

Describing the post-win feeling as a combination of excitement and pride, Warren maintains that this year’s championship title was truly a team effort. “We came into CIS ranked first, however, Alberta and Guelph weren’t far behind and their rosters were stacked,” she said. “Overall, this year was much more of [a] collective effort. We had athletes from all disciplines getting points and this kept us on our toes till the very last minute.”

When asked of her goals for the team next year, Warren doesn’t hold back- — she wants a three-peat. “It’ll be my fifth and final year on the team and I can’t think of a better way to go out” she said. “We have a team of dedicated, talented, and passionate athletes so while I know this is an ambitious goal, by no means do I think it is unattainable.”

All we do is win, win, win, no matter what

Big week for Varsity Blues athletes

All we do is win, win, win, no matter what

While U of T students gear up for classes after reading week, many varsity athletes didn’t get much of a break. Multiple teams competed in a throng of meets throughout reading week.

The Varsity Blues men’s and women’s swim teams came home with Ontario University Athletics (OUA) banners; the track and field squad took on international competition in Washington and Ohio; and the men’s volleyball team shut-out number one team McMaster, while the women capped off a perfect regular season.

Swimming

The Varsity Blues swim teams didn’t disappoint during the OUA championships in London. Hosted by the Western Mustangs, the Blues dominated the competition with both teams’ closest challengers, the Mustangs, over 280 points away from the Blues women’s 1,049 point total and the men’s 1,019.

Over the course of the competition the Blues broke multiple OUA and national records, amounting to 18 in total. Second-year Kylie Masse led the women’s team, taking home four individual gold medals — one of which came in her national record breaking 100m backstroke race. Masse was named the Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS) athlete of the week for her successes.

On the men’s side, third-year Hochan Ryu drowned the competition and was named the male OUA swimmer of the year, earning four individual gold medals, including a meet record; he was also a member of two of the Blues gold medal winning relay teams. The OUA banners signal the thirteenth straight banner win for the men and the third for the women. The wins place the squads comfortably at the top of the CIS leaderboards.

Track and field

Athletes from the Varsity Blues track and field team headed to the states for some division one competition when they attended the Husky Classic at the University of Washington and the Spire Invitational in Geneva, Ohio.

Sending teams comprised mainly of runners, the men’s team was lead by fourth-year veteran Sacha Smart who won the 600 m and 800 m competitions in Seattle. Smart, who competed on the Blues cross-country team in the fall, placed fifth in the 600 m at last year’s CIS championship. Sprinters Rayshaun Franklin and Isiah Weathers also enjoyed podium finishes in Seattle, placing first and third, respectively, in the men’s 300 m race.

Third-year distance athlete Gabriela Stafford not only placed second in the women’s 3000 m race, but also did it in a world championship qualifying time of 8:54.87 — a clocking which would have won the competition in 2014. Representing U of T’s field athletes was fifth-year horizontal jumper Julia Stille who, in keeping with her podium finishes throughout the season, placed second in the long and triple jump competitions.

The women’s track and field team sits at the top of the CIS leader board with a comfortable lead, while the men’s squad is just shy of 30 points behind powerhouse Windsor.

Volleyball

In an incredible demonstration of grit, the number four Varsity Blues men’s volleyball team defeated the top ranked Marauders in five sets to ruin McMaster’s perfect regular season.

The win, aided by a game high 23 kill performance from William Colucci, seemed to give the Blues a confidence boost, which carried them through wins against the Guelph Gryphons a day later, and an electrifying five set win over the Western Mustangs on Friday.

The win over the Mustangs awarded the Blues an OUA homecoming 12 years in the making, as the squad will play host to an OUA playoff game for the first time since 2004. Following a win over the Windsor Lancers on Saturday, the squad improved their winning streak to five.

Not to be outdone, the Blues women’s volleyball team completed a 19-0 regular season on Saturday with a win over the Lancers. Dropping only two sets all season, the women’s team sits five points behind UBC’s Okanagan campus who lead the CIS with 60 points. Last years OUA champions, the Blues will attempt to defend their banner this Saturday at the Goldring Centre in OUA quarterfinal action.

Sports in brief

A round-up of the top sports stories from around the university

Sports in brief

Track and field athletes clean up at home opener

Last weekend, the Varsity Blues men’s and women’s track and field team hosted the 2016 Fred Foot Memorial Meet at the Athletic Centre field house. The competition saw multiple athletes make OUA and CIS standards, as well as win a host of gold-medals. James Turner, a fifth-year kinesiology student, lead the way for the men’s team, winning the men’s heptathlon competition by racking up 5,430 points. Turner, the defending OUA and CIS champion in the multi-events competition, has surpassed his 2015 CIS gold-medal winning decathlon performance by 1,353 points. Fourth-year student Ekua Cudjoe made CIS standard in the weight throw competition with a throw of 17.09m. In addition to making the national standard, Cudjoe won the shot put competition with a throw of 12.45m, 82cm longer than her OUA throw last year. Leading the way for the Blues men’s jumps squad was second-year computer engineering student James Elson who won gold and silver in the high jump and triple jump competitions, respectively. Despite missing some of the track and field program’s most accomplished athletes, the team managed to win seven gold medals. Next up for the team will be the OUA championships on February 29 at York.


Blues men’s volleyball annihilate Nipissing

The Varsity Blues men’s volleyball team had a stellar night defeating the Nipissing Lakers on Saturday in North Bay, putting the Blues in fourth place in the OUA — just two points behind Queen’s. The win helped the Blues improve their record to 7-4, and was characterised by spectacular individual feats from several players including third-year right hitter William Colucci and captain Aidan Haslett. Colucci and Haslett both managed career-high kills during the game with 23 and 16, respectively. Colucci, who is studying environmental science and ethics, has now moved up to sixth spot on the OUA kill per set count, right behind teammate Stefan Ristic who sits in second position. Improving immensely from last season, the men have already beaten last years 4-16 record and moved up six places on the OUA leader board with eight games left until the OUA quarter finals. The men’s next game on Monday January 17 will see the Blues looking to redeem themselves against the York Lions who beat them 3-1 in their last game. You can watch the game at the Goldring Centre; the first serve is set for three o’clock.


Women’s hockey lose 3-2 to Gryphons men on two game winning streak

The Varsity Blues women’s hockey team dropped a close 3-2 decision to the Guelph Gryphons on Saturday, bringing the Blues to sixth position on the OUA leader board. Top seed in the OUA, the Gryphons scored their winning goal on a power play with 7.7 seconds remaining in the game, bringing their season average to 10-2. Both teams stayed on the ice post-game to pay tribute to Denna Laing, the NWHL player who sustained a serious spine injury competing at the inaugural outdoor women’s classic on December 31.

In men’s hockey action, the Blues won their second straight game on Saturday 4-1, defeating the visiting Brock Badgers. The men were aided by superb goaltending from Andrew Hunt, making 24 saves in the match. The Blues have several players within the top 10 on the OUA leader board, including goalie Brett Willows in sixth spot with 164 post-season saves. The men will try to make a three game streak when they take on the Mustangs on January 21 in London.