Bhubaneswar: Hyperandrogenism (presence of elevated level of testosterone in the body) is the most debated topic in world athletics today and so it is natural that the organisers of the Ekamra Sports Literary Festival, the first-of-its-kind event in Asia, would certainly include it for discussion during one of the sessions moderated by sports journalist Suprita Das. The participation of Madeline Pape researcher and a victim of hyperandrogenism, Santhi Soundarajan, who was stripped of her silver medal won in 2006 Doha Asiad on the same pretext, and gender rights activist Gopi Shankar made the session an interesting and informative one – possibly the pick of the session Friday.
The deliberations began and ended with the heroic story of South African middle-distance runner Caster Semenya, who is facing ban from athletics for ‘hyperandrogenism’ in 2009 when the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) directed her to lower her testosterone level through hormone therapy or quit athletics. Although she is yet to return to the track, the 27-year-old’s struggle has made her a hero in her country and today Nike has featured her in a commercial – a victory of sorts for all women runners who have been victims of ‘hyperandrogenism.’
Addressing the gathering, Madeline said, “An insensitive media, dirty politics and the high-handedness of the IAAF and the International Olympic Association (IOA) are ruining the careers of several middle-distance women runners across the world. While Dutee Chand has overcome the aspersions against her and Semenya continue to fight for her cause, Santhi and many other woman athletes are languishing in oblivion.”
Madeline, who is currently pursuing PhD on gender studies at the University of Wisconsin, further said, “During my research I have talked to numerous people and all are of the view that elevated level of testosterone in the blood boosts one’s performance is just a myth. Even the new rules of the IAAF on hyperandrogenism are not scientific. Aside from testosterone, genetics, physiological aspects and other issues influence an athlete’s performance. Unfortunately, the IAAF is spending huge amounts to maintain its regime and suppress women athletes.”
Narrating her sordid tale, Santhi rued, “I was completely ignorant of hyperandrogenism when I participated in the Doha Asiad. Soon after my event, I was taken to a room and stripped in front of 11 male medicos and was forced to remain nude for half a day. Later, they stripped me of my medal and told me to return to India.” Back home, she led a miserable life – was unable to go outside, travel in public transport or use public toilet. Even my sister’s marriage was affected due to insensitive reporting by a section of the media.”
Gopi, who has taken up Santhi’s cause, demanded that the authorities restore her medal. “It is a human rights violation, as the sex verification test reports that are supposed to be confidential were leaked to the media by a section of unscrupulous sports authorities and insensitive media. It is high time the media stands for athletes like Santhi as the people of Odisha have stood for Dutee. Unless there is public support, more and more Santhis will continue to suffer.”