What Constitutes Advantage in Sport?

What constitutes an advantage in sport? The answer to this question lives on a fluctuating spectrum where some are severely punished while others are encouraged. This is most notable in athletes with disabilities or genetic abnormalities and their acceptance or disapproval in sport. The ridicule Justin Gatlin and Caster Semenya have undergone help to illustrate what some organizations view as advantageous. Both of their conditions are to due to their biology, yet one is seen as an unfair advantage without treatment/medication (high testosterone levels) and the other is considered doping if using treatment/medication (ADHD).

The Case of Caster Semenya

The IAAF’s regulations require females athletes with naturally elevated levels of testosterone to take suppressants in order to compete in certain running events in international competition. Due to this “Caster Semenya will not be allowed to defend her 800m title at the Athletics World Championships in Doha unless she takes testosterone suppressant drugs, after a Swiss court reversed a prior ruling which had allowed her to compete while her appeal against the IAAF’s controversial regulations were ongoing” (source: Independent). However, Semenya has stated that she will not artificially reduce her testosterone levels to compete, and will continue to right for the human rights of all female athletes.

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Caster Semenya of South Africa standing proud with her countries flag after competing in the 2018 Commonwealth games (source: Martin Rickett – PA Images / PA Images via Getty Images)

The Case of Justin Gatlin

Gatlin won gold at the 2004 Athens Olympics and says his sustained ability to rise to the occasion in major athletic events can in part be attributed to the neurological condition he was diagnosed with as a child (ADHD). In comparison to Semenya, Gatlin was allowed to compete in the Athletics World Championships in Doha as long as he did not take medication for his condition: “Justin Gatlin stopped taking medication for attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) after it led to the first drugs ban of this controversial career. The suspension was later overturned after his lawyers waited the Disabilities Act” (source: Independent).

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Justin Gatlin of the United States waves to the crowd after taking second place in the men’s 100m final at the Olympic stadium during the Rio 2016 Olympic Games on August 14, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil (Source: Pascal Le Segretain / Getty Images)

These decisions seem very arbitrary on what is considered performance enhancement and the promotion of performance. Semenya is able to perform with her condition without hindering her performance, where Gatlin the absence of medication could hinder and undermine his work. Furthermore, simply having higher testosterone levels does not necessarily equate to athletic benefit. In a similar light if someone had weak ankles you would not judge them for wearing a brace, but when it comes to mental illness you judge or see an advantage in medication that is meant to simply aid regular brain function.

Aside from the subjective rulings of doping and advantages, these examples also show how society views conformity (Gatlin) and deviance (Semenya). From the case of Gatlin (agreeing to discontinue treatment for his ADHD and thus being allowed to continue competing), it can be inferred that society views conformity as in line with morality (or good behaviour/right action). In comparison, from the case of Semenya (refusing to artificially lower her testosterone levels, and thus being banned from competition) it may be inferred that society views the rejection of accepted goals (goals in this care being a particular range of accepted testosterone levels) or the means of achieving goals in society as deviant behaviour. This is not to say that one is right, and one is wrong. Rather, deviance is a social construction and there is no consensus on the definition, and in fact, some deviant behaviour can be important to initiate change and instigate research/information.


Feature Image Source: OpenPR

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