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Semenya’s case reflects broader dilemmas facing sports world

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NEW YORK — Caster Semenya’s running career, jarred by an adverse court ruling on Wednesday, is unique in virtually all its details. Yet the dilemmas she has posed for the track-and-field establishment reflect how vast segments of the sports world are now wrestling with issues related to intersex and transgender athletes.

The essence of the dilemma: How to minimize or eliminate discrimination while simultaneously ensuring that competitions are as fair as possible.

The challenges faced by Olympic champion Semenya — a South African woman who reportedly has some intersex traits — differ in key respects from those confronting transgender women. But there are parallels as well, as evidenced in the ruling by the Court of Arbitration for Sport, the sports world’s highest court,

The CAS ruled that Semenya and other female runners with unusually high testosterone must take medication to reduce their levels of the male sex hormone if they want to compete in certain events, notably the 400 and 800 metres. Comparable requirements apply to transgender women seeking to compete in the Olympics and in NCCA-governed collegiate sports in the U.S.; both organizations say male-to-female athletes should demonstrate that their testosterone level has been below a certain point for at least a year before their first competition.

In Semenya’s case, the CAS voted 2-1 to uphold proposed rules issued by international track’s governing body, the IAAF, saying that they are discriminatory but that “such discrimination is a necessary, reasonable and proportionate means” of “preserving the integrity of female athletics.”

Athlete Ally, a U.S.-based group advocating for grater transgender inclusion in sports, assailed the ruling against Semenya.

“Forcing athletes to undergo medically unnecessary interventions in order to participate in the sport they dedicate their lives to is cruel, and a violation of their human rights,” said the group’s executive director, Hudson Taylor.

Also angered was Kimberly Zieselman, executive director of InterACT, which advocates on behalf of intersex youth.

The CAS ruling against Semenya “is another example of the ignorance faced by women athletes who have differences in their sex traits,” Zieselman said in an email. “There is no one way to be a woman.”

“It is an inherently flawed conclusion that Caster’s natural testosterone level is the only thing giving her physical strength,” Zieselman added. She noted — while citing swimmer Michael Phelps’ long arms — that many athletes have unique physical advantages.

Powerful female stars such as Serena Williams in tennis, Katie Ledecky in swimming and 6-foot-9 (2.06-meter) Brittney Griner in basketball also have been cited as possessing a distinctive physical edge.

Aside from Semenya, there have been relatively few high-profile controversies involving intersex athletes, while there’s been an abundance of news stories about transgender athletes.

Overall, supporters of increased trans inclusion in sports are heartened by the pace of progress. In the United States, a growing number of state high school athletic associations in the U.S. enable them to play on teams based on their gender identity, and the NCAA has trans-inclusive guidelines for all its member schools.

But there have been numerous bitter controversies, even at the high school level. In Connecticut, for example, the dominance of transgender girl sprinters Terry Miller and Andraya Yearwood has stirred resentment among some competitors and their families.

At the adult level, USA Powerlifting incurred recent criticism for sticking by its policy of banning trans women from its competitions. The organization contends that regardless of testosterone levels, male-to-female competitors generally have significant advantages related to bone density and muscle mass.

Earlier this year, tennis great Martina Navratilova became entangled in the debate over trans women’s place in sports.

A lesbian and longtime gay-rights activist, Navratilova was accused of being “transphobic” after asserting that many transgender women — even if they’d undergone hormone treatment — have an unfair advantage over other female competitors. Among her critics was Athlete Ally, which ousted her from its advisory board.

Another critic was Rachel McKinnon, a transgender Canadian track cyclist who in October won a world championship sprint event for women of ages 35 to 44. She suggested that Navratilova’s argument reflected “an irrational fear of trans women.”

McKinnon encountered widespread resentment after she won her championship event.

Initially, she was elated, even though one of her top rivals pulled out of the final at the last minute. But then a photo spread across the internet showing her on the podium with the two smaller, skinnier runners-up, triggering extensive social-media attacks.

Joanna Harper, a medical physicist and transgender runner from Portland, Oregon, says the controversies raise complex questions, and she believes there needs to be a standard based on hormone levels.

“The gender identity doesn’t matter, it’s the testosterone levels,” Harper said. “Trans girls should have the right to compete in sports. But cisgender girls should have the right to compete and succeed, too. How do you balance that? That’s the question.”

The IAAF argued in Semenya’s case that high, naturally occurring levels of testosterone in athletes with intersex characteristics that don’t conform to standard definitions of male and female give them an unfair competitive advantage. It decreed a maximum level for females.

Semenya — whose muscular build and super-fast times have led some to question her accomplishments — declared she will not be deterred by the CAS ruling.

“For a decade the IAAF has tried to slow me down, but this has actually made me stronger,” she said in a statement. “I will once again rise above and continue to inspire young women and athletes in South Africa and around the world.”

David Crary, The Associated Press




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Gretzky Was Magic, Now He Sees It

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Gretzky Was Magic, Now He Sees It

If you ever watched Wayne Gretzky – or even if you know the reputation but have never seen him in action – you probably know one of his major skills. Largely due to his dad’s early encouragement, Wayne developed a sense of where the puck was going long before his rivals zeroed in.

The advantages of his anticipation were obvious, of course., probably the biggest reason why he collected more than 200 points in four separate seasons and his National Hockey League records for career points (2,857), goals (894), assists (1,963) and hat tricks (50) are still unchallenged long after his retirement.

One memory in particular stands out for me. It didn’t lead to a goal, or even a point but I’ll never forget it. Gretzky was alone near the opposing net when line mate Dave Hunter got tied up scuffling for a loose puck. Gretzky left the zone and went, uncovered, to a corner about 30 feet away. Immediately, the puck followed him.

“..what he’s got is unique hockey sense…”

Gretzky picked up the puck and made an easy pass back to the point, then left for the bench. Later, I asked what prompted him to change position. “There was only one place for the puck to go,” he smiled.

I learned something shocking this week: that talent for reading the future has followed the game’s all-time leading offensive player into outlining many of the possibilities in the upcoming playoff series between his old team, the Edmonton Oilers, and the Chicago Blackhawks.

Please note, there is no suggestion here that Gretzky, or anyone else, predicts the future. But several pages in “Stories of the Game” leave the clear suggestion that he might have done it in this case.

The book was co-written by Gretzky and Kirstie McLellan Day several years ago, just as Connor McDavid was establishing himself in Edmonton as one who needs only time (and freedom from injury) to join the roster as one NHL’s greatest ever. “He’s already started to drive the bus,” says one sentence that also mentions Bobby Orr, Gordie Howe, Jean Beliveau and Maurice (Rocket) Richard. “McDavid makes everyone better.”

One paragraph later, Darnell Nurse is described as “a Kevin Lowe type” and the long-ago (much under-rated) Charlie Huddy is seen as a role model for Oscar Klefbom. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, in whatever role he plays, reminds Gretzky of winners like Kenny Linseman and Mark Lamb – who were not fully appreciated on teams as powerful as the Oilers dynasty. “I think we’ll see more success now (in Edmonton) with McDavid at the centre.”

It was equally instructive to read occasional references to what weapons Chicago could unfurl, recognizing the claim by some astute fans that Hawks’ sub-par record should not have given them a berth in the playoffs.

Only twice since 2007-08 has Jonathan Toews surpassed 70 points in a season, but his leadership qualities and consistency are beyond question. At one time, he was the third-youngest team captain in NHL annals, behind only Sidney Crosby and Vincent Lecavalier. Early last season, Toews rivalled Patrick Kane as Chicago’s leading scorer but the gifted Kane was back on top by the end of the partial season cut short by COVID-19.

Says Gretzky, whose skill with the puck remains legendary, “Kane has probably the softest hands in the game.”

In addition, “what he’s got is unique hockey sense.”

Well, Wayne, you’ve finally led to the perfect old cliché: It Takes One to Know One.

Our sports history has value

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Alberta

More questions than answers on NHL scheduling

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MORE QUESTIONS THAN ANSWERS

Rumours are the lifeblood of sports. Few will argue the accuracy of such a statement. Perhaps the reason they draw so much attention on talk shows and in face-to-face conversation is the inevitable growth of broad and open discussions over a period of time.

Often, in sport and in every attention-getting issue, these debates take the simplest possible form: one group of gripers against another group of gripers. In the best of circumstances logic takes the place of emotion and the reasonable point of view is accepted.

Not always, of course.

Edmonton has much to offer in its bid, obviously starting with the region’s success in its war with coronavirus.

NHL scheduling — do they play or not? should they play or not? – has dominated these arguments almost since the first wide knowledge that COVID-19 had brought its crippling threat to North America. At times, the noise of fans desperate for the game and those who find desperate reason to keep everything, including sports events, locked down for the longest possible period has threatened to overshadow all but the most vital question of personal health and survival.

Self-distancing is at the root of all debates. Stay home as much as possible. Wear masks. Stay at least three metres away from other humans, except those who live in the same residence. Obviously, this has been good advice and continues to be.

But calls for a looser application of these valid regulations have apparently become the majority opinion. Larger social groups have been approved. More customers are allowed in many businesses than was the case only a few days ago. Haircuts are allowed, at long last.

Most important in the context of sports, golf courses and other athletic and fitness facilities have been opened. Beaches, too, but indoor swimming pools – in Edmonton anyway are still off-limits.

As I’m sure you know, the two-metre (roughly six feet) between unrelated individuals is still recommended.

Nowhere is the debate more heated than in talk of the NHL playoffs. Edmonton’s anxiety to become a so-called “hub” city for half of the games has been covered to the point of mental exhaustion for me, but still there are more questions than answers.

The biggest complaint seems to be articulated by those who think the NHL should live by the same rules as the rest of us. Many have complained in public at any suggestion that the 14-day isolation requirement for newcomers to the province should stay in place, even if it means the NHL and communication outlets in both North American nations would have to take their attractions to a city more welcoming.

Government officials insist that all possible precautions will be kept in place as newcomers arrive for the necessary training. The testing and recovery ratios are among the best in the world, but still concerns are expressed in strident tones. Edmonton has much to offer in its bid, obviously starting with the region’s success in its war with coronavirus.

From the standpoint of supporters, the status of Rexall Place among the very best facilities in the world should count as a major plus in the argument. Vancouver and Toronto have placed what they consider strong competitive bids. Vancouver’s COVID-19 numbers are in the same positive category as Edmonton’s. The same cannot be said for Toronto.

In only a short while, we’ll all learn whether Toronto’s financial opportunities overshadow the clear health advantages in smaller, western cities.

MORE QUESTIONS THAN ANSWERS.

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