Discrimination to Protect Discrimination: The CAS’s Decision on Semenya & ASA vs. IAAF

– By Anna Posbergh

Anna is a Ph.D. student in Physical Cultural Studies at the University of Maryland, College Park.

A year ago, I wrote about the concerns regarding the International Association of Athletics Federations’ (IAAF) newest policy on testosterone regulation and the science “supporting” their policy. In this piece, I critiqued the IAAF’s proposed policy around testosterone regulation of athletes with higher levels of naturally occurring testosterone. Specifically, I focused on the discriminatory nature of this policy and failure of the science behind it to corroborate the IAAF’s assertion that endogenous testosterone unfairly benefits female athletes.

Since then, three scientists have published a peer-reviewed article, further detailing the violation of scientific validity in this study. Yet, on Wednesday, the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) upheld the IAAF’s 2018 policy, stating that the IAAF’s testosterone regulation was a “necessary, reasonable, and proportionate means of achieving the legitimate objective of ensuring fair competition in female athletics in certain events and protecting the ‘protected class’ of female athletes in those events.” It is now set to go into effect on May 8, requiring all female athletes with higher levels of testosterone competing in events with lengths between the 400m and the mile, to suppress their endogenous hormonal levels through hormonal contraceptives.

This ruling is highly concerning, and several organizations have already spoken out against this ruling, from the UN Human Council to the World Medical Association. And for good reason. Between violating medical ethics, impinging on human rights, and failing to uphold scientific integrity, there is not much reason to support or even like this new policy. As Dr. Katrina Karkazis and Dr. Rebecca Jordan-Young point out in their New York Times op-ed, the IAAF has “already caused immense harm by reinforcing outdated and misguided ideas about testosterone,” particularly the idea that testosterone causes performative success. This is not true, and is outlined in the very study on which this policy is based. In several cases, female athletes with lower/the lowest levels of testosterone ran faster, jumped higher, and threw farther than female athletes with higher/the highest levels of testosterone. Madeleine Pape at the University of Wisconsin-Madison further reiterates this point: using testosterone as the end-all-be-all for sex segregation substantiates myths around this hormone and validates discrimination as a means of “protecting female athletes.”

The word “discrimination,” appears in the CAS executive summary. Specifically, in literally labeling this policy as “discriminatory,” they state:

The Panel unanimously concludes that the [Differences of Sex Development (DSD)] Regulations are prima facie discriminatory since they impose differential treatment based on protected characteristics. In particular, since the DSD Regulations establish restrictions that are targeted at a subset of the female/intersex athlete population, and do not impose any equivalent restrictions on male athletes, it follows that the Regulations are prima facie discriminatory on grounds of legal sex. Similarly, the DSD Regulations create restrictions that are targeted at a group of individuals who have certain immutable biological characteristics (namely a 46 XY DSD coupled with a material androgenising effect arising from that condition), and which do not apply to individuals who do not have those characteristics. It follows that the Regulations are also prima facie discriminatory on grounds of innate biological characteristics.

Hence, across the board, the three-person CAS panel (Dr. Annabelle Bennett, Australia; Honorable Hugh L. Fraser, Canada; and Dr. Hans Nater, Switzerland: all white judges) labeled the policy as discriminatory. Between the differential treatment of athletes with DSD, lack of imposed regulation on male athletes, and the naturally occurring nature of this testosterone level, the CAS unanimously deemed this policy as discrimination. However, a majority of the panel (two of the three) deemed this discrimination necessary on the premise of “fair play.”

Let’s be real now: “fair play” does not exist.

“Fair play” is impossible to achieve in sport. Cheryl Cooky and Shari Dworkin wrote on this very concept in 2013, explaining:

Sport studies scholars have noted the ways in which sport is not a level playing field; rather, it is a site wherein broader forms of social inequality are accepted, tolerated, and ignored. The historic and contemporary structure and culture of sport institutions often reproduces hegemonic masculinity, racism, classism, gender inequalities, and nationalism…In Western societies, sporting institutions have been organizationally structured to benefit the interests of dominant groups (i.e., White, male, economically affluent) (p. 107)

Considering the income and socioeconomic status disparity between athletes, access to resources, racism, sexism, homophobia, nationalism, colonialism, and transphobia, “fair” simply does not exist in the world of sport. To assume otherwise is to erase the lived experiences of athletes of color, trans athletes, gay athletes, working class athletes, and athletes from the global South, and to ignore the incredibly iniquitous history of sport. Additionally, when we consider the different framing of “genetic advantages” between male and female athletes, “fairness” becomes further obfuscated.

Caster Semenya’s existence and success in sport is at the epicenter of these systemic oppressions. Her black muscular body and identities as a black queer female athlete from the global South, disrupt the dominant female body (white, feminine, from the global North) that the IAAF attempts to privilege. The CAS’s decision is a disaster for sports law, decolonial and postcolonial scholars, feminists, critical race scholars, body theorists, and queer scholars alike, considering the power dynamics between the CAS decision and Semenya (three white judges from the global North deciding her fate), lack of scientific integrity behind the original 2017 study, and discriminatory nature of the policy. In a six-page document, the CAS decision reifies the myths and problematics fueling the IAAF policy that scholars from these fields have spent decades attempting to deconstruct. Moreover, the issues around this policy bridge the positivist and constructivist, quantitative and qualitative, objective and subjective, realms when considering the faulty science behind these regulations. Even the World Medical Association raised concerns, releasing a statement last week:

It is in general considered as unethical for physicians to prescribe treatment for excessive endogenous testosterone if the condition is not recognized as pathological. The WMA calls on physicians to oppose and refuse to perform any test or administer any treatment or medicine which is not in accordance with medical ethics, and which might be harmful to the athlete using it, especially to artificially modifying blood constituents, biochemistry or endogenous testosterone.

Requiring the use of hormonal contraceptives to reach an intended hormonal level, without regard for the side effects on an athlete (especially when those contraceptives have not thoroughly been tested) is a violation of medical ethics. Temporarily ignoring the socio-cultural implications of the IAAF policy, the regulations have the potential to inflict irreversible physical damage on the athletes affected by this policy. Re-factoring in the ethical and historical contexts of this policy, leaves little to support the IAAF’s policy and the CAS’s decision.

Thus, even a year later, we can conclusively state that this policy is, and continues to be, an abomination.


Thank you to Dr. Sam Clevenger and Brandon Wallace for their insightful feedback and edits on earlier drafts.


Trayvon Martin. Michael Brown. Brandon Wallace?

– By Brandon Wallace

Brandon is a Master’s student in Physical Cultural Studies at the University of Maryland, College Park.

The news article probably would’ve been written something like this.

“On Thursday, 23-year-old College Park resident Brandon Wallace was fatally shot by local police officers after entering the police station armed with a deadly weapon. According to authorities, Wallace rushed into the police station wielding a 10-inch knife with intent to kill. A local police officer, who has asked to remain anonymous at this time, saw the knife in Wallace’s hands immediately after Wallace entered the station. The officer shot Wallace 11 times, killing him on the spot. The officer claims that he feared for his life and the lives of his fellow officers. The police administration has stated that the officer’s actions followed protocol and were justified. An investigation into the incident is pending…”


In his 1903 American classic The Souls of Black Folks, W.E.B. DuBois writes about the “double consciousness” of African-Americans, referring the sense of always having to reconcile two conflicting identities. One of these identities matches our common conceptualization; basically, how one perceives themselves in relation to their world. However, DuBois argued that African-Americans must harbor a second identity that is based upon a constant awareness of how others perceive their everyday actions and behaviors. Essentially, the African-American must constantly see him/herself through the eyes of those who have ideological and material power over the fate of their bodies (Coates, 2015). DuBois wrote about this in the heart of Jim Crow, an era of racial segregation, state-sanctioned and extrajudicial lynching, and ubiquitous second-class citizenship for African-Americans. Despite incremental gains from civil rights movements, double consciousness is still a reality for many African-Americans in what Michelle Alexander (2011) and others call ‘the New Jim Crow’ of the 21st century: mass incarceration and the racially-inequitable criminal justice system.

I could spend the rest of this essay listing facts and statistics about the racial discrepancies in the criminal justice system. However, I believe percentages, ratios, and bar graphs do not always accurately portray the magnitude of the issue. Sometimes, it takes a personal experience, like one I recently had, to evoke even close to the level of emotions that this issue evokes in its victims – and remind the 21st century African-American of their double consciousness in the “age of colorblindness” (Bonilla-Silva, 2014).

Every week, I am in charge of a group of local 5th-8th graders for a ‘Sports and Fitness’ class in which we go outside, do a short fitness workout, and play some sort of physically-active game. On the way to the field where the class is held, we walk in front of the local police station. Last week, when walking to our field, a few of my students called out to me, “Mr. Wallace, we found something weird!” I walked over to see them huddled around a large knife in the front lawn of the police station. It was about 10 inches with a dirty blade from who-knows-what. The immediate proximity to the police station was suspicious, and the fact that my students almost stepped on it on our way to the park made it an object of danger. It obviously needed to be removed. I knew the responsible thing to do was to give the knife to the police officers and let them know that I found it in the front lawn of the station. Whether or not the knife would be of interest to the police, I needed to at least set a good example for my students.

I told my students continue on to the field and begin their warmup, and that I would be there shortly. I picked up the knife with a nearby leaf (wherever this knife had been or whatever it had done, I knew I did not want my fingerprints on it). With an eye on my students, my hood over my head to block the chilly wind, and a sense of civic pride, I marched to the police station with the knife.

I nonchalantly walked through the doors of the police station. It was not until I saw the eyes of the front desk clerk locked on the knife and the sheer terror on her face that I realized the situation. “What the hell am I doing?” I thought to myself, “I’m a 23-year-old black man bringing a huge knife into a police station. Literally with my hood up!”

My heart began to race while adrenaline and worry rushed through my body. The clerk grabbed intercom and called some sort of code throughout the police station speakers. I quickly took my hood off, raised my hand above my head, and tried to hold the knife as non-threateningly as I could with my other hand. “No no no!” I screamed, “I found this outside!” I put the knife on the desk and raised that hand above my head as well. Luckily, the clerk believed me. She gave an “All clear” through the intercom. Still, I expected some officers to come around the corner with guns drawn at me. Instead, one officer calmly came to the front desk to assess the situation. Somewhat deliriously, I explained to the officer and clerk that my students had found the knife on the front lawn and I just wanted to turn it in. I frantically apologized for the optics of the situation. They thanked me, asked me a few more questions about the knife, and sent me on my way. As I joined my students at the field, I made sure to put on my most stoic and emotionless performance for the rest of the class.


Had a few variables of my situation been different, or if I had just been unlucky, the above news article may have been written about me. I was the wrong person trying to do the right thing at the wrong place at the wrong time. If an officer had seen me entering and was a little too trigger-happy, this story could have been told from their point of view. I could have been considered armed and dangerous. My physical appearance could have been described as menacing. They could have speculated freely about my intent. They could have discovered my various social media posts about #BlackLivesMatter and labelled me as a domestic terrorist. A national debate could have arisen about my past, my future, and whether I was deserving or undeserving of my fate. My mother could have lost her son, my fiancé could have lost her future husband, and my body could have been taken as a justified sacrifice to protect a body whose possession of a badge delineates it as more valuable.

Had my case even gone to a trial, the circumstances of it probably would have made it relatively ‘open-and-shut’ in favor of the officer when considering other recent police brutality trials. So many black lives have been taken for so much less than the circumstances of my situation. Even for those whose killing at the hands of police officers have been deemed ‘justified’ by the legal system or the court public opinion, who knows the extent to which their stories would have been different if they had lived to tell it. Thankfully, Brandon Wallace was not added to the long list of victims of the New Jim Crow. But as this situation has reminded me, the unfortunate reality of double consciousness is just as necessary in 2018 as it has been throughout our bloody history.



Alexander, M. (2011). The new jim crow: Mass incarceration in the age of colorblindness (Revised edition / ed.). New York: New Press.

Bonilla-Silva, E. (2014). Racism without racists: Color-blind racism and the persistence of racial inequality in america (Fourth ed.). Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield.

Coates, T. (2015). Between the world and me. New York: Spiegel & Grau.

Du Bois, W. (2013[1903]). The souls of black folk. Oakland, Calif.: Eucalyptus Press.

A Sporting Embodiment: Black Women Run Too

-By Tori Thompson

Tori Thompson is currently a Master’s student in Physical Cultural Studies at the University of Maryland in College Park. Her work involving race and obesity was recently presented at the North American Society for the Sociology of Sport 2018 in Vancouver, Canada, where she also received the Gary Sailes Graduate Diversity Scholarship.

Email: torialex@umd.edu

Twitter: @Planet_PCS


Why do they always look at me like that?”

That’s what I think when I consistently see the same white men and women on the running trail in my neighborhood. My boyfriend and I recently moved to this neighborhood, motivated in part by the vast amount of running trails in the area. Granted, I see more people using the trails to walk their dogs in the morning, but I don’t mind the dogs. What I do mind are the constantly surveilling eyes that watch me as I jog over the bridge. I cannot help but think that their gaze is a response to both my being black and running on the trail. My blackness may be disrupting their racially homogenous space, and my activity may seem odd…or suspicious.

“Good morning” they say. “Mornin’,” is my response as I pull my Nike visor down over my eyes and continue to run up the next hill. I sense that they are displeased with my short and staunch response. I guess they are accustomed  to people stopping and chatting, but I do not have the time. My brisk pace is necessary in order to to make it home in time to resume writing my thesis and doing laundry. As I run past the white couple with the dog, I feel the need to turn down my music—to the point where I am no longer able to make out the lyrics—so that I can hear if someone is coming up behind me. Unintentionally, my fist clenches and I find myself thinking of ways to take down men who are bigger than me. As sweat rolls down my arms I feel my biceps begin to swell and my nose flare. I must be angry.

I run down the hill and see a black woman about my age, jogging with her phone in one hand and water bottle in another. The items seem to constrain her range of motion and prohibit her from achieving proper running form—she appears to be struggling. Subconsciously, I turn up the volume on my iPod and start to keep pace with the rhythm of my favorite workout song. My feet begin to mimic the bass. Boom, boom, clap. Boom, boom, clap. I competitively quicken my pace and obtain ideal running form as I run past the black woman. I make sure that my chest is high and elbows are in—I even begin to sing the lyrics. Ironically, the lyrics are “lemme show you how it’s done,” which I sing loudly and proudly as I breeze past the other black woman. I sense her gaze, but unlike the white couple, it does not anger me. Her gaze makes me want to work harder. Her gaze makes me unclench my fist and snap to the beat of my music instead. And most importantly, it makes me run faster and not think about any muscular pain that I begin to acquire in response to my quickening pace.

“Okay T, hustle up,” I tell myself as I approach the last hill of the 3.1 mile trail. Seeing nobody, and I began to ease up and regain control of my breathing. My lungs fail to keep up with the fluctuation of emotions that accompany me on this morning’s run. I even feel a little light-headed, but I knew I could not stop until I made it up that last hill. A slower song comes on, and again, my feet mimic the bass to the new song, which involves seeing the police behind you and still refusing to stop. I feel obligated to keep my pace even though my lower back begins to throb. The last hill is always the worst. Despite the sweat was dripping onto my eyes and my form breaking down, I could not stop. I was watching me.

“I ain’t gonna stop” were the lyrics that played as I successfully finished my morning run.


It is not uncommon to read embodied narratives about athletic failure and triumph. Sporting narratives often promote a ‘healthist’ narrative, focusing on individual responsibility and success, and often aligning with the dominant ideology that a sporting body is also a disciplined and civil body. However, the language used in this embodied narrative does not demonstrate disciplined and civil connotations, nor does the language promote the same ‘values’ as other autobiographical narratives that are focused on physical activity (Allen-Collinson and Otwon, 2014). This may be due to the racial underpinnings of the narrative.

The purpose of this embodied narrative is to disrupt the dominant belief that black women do not exercise, or in this case, run. This belief may stem from the continuously promoted statistic: 60% of black women are obese (Foley et al., 2012). This statistic is an essential generator of obesity discourse, which often situates black women as being unable to engage in physical activity due to lack of time, resources, and motivation (Rubin, Fitts, and Becker, 2003). This narrative gives a different “meaning to being black, female, and physically active as it situates the black female body in an ‘abnormal’ space. Leach (2012) states, “what we really think about bodies that differ from the norm is important because our beliefs about normal embodiment become normative” (p. 140).  What is considered a ‘normal’ practice becomes embodied within society, and bodies that do not succumb to what is ‘normal’ are considered anomalies (Leach, 2012). However, both normal and abnormal bodies, generate social meanings (Allen-Collinson and Otwon, 2014), and impact the individual’s identity, therefore warranting a need for more investigations into the embodied consciousness of the physically active black female as black female obesity rates continue to rise.




Allen-Collinson, J. & Owton, H. (2014). Intense embodiment: Senses of heat in women’s running and boxing. Body & Society, 1-24; DOI: 10.1177/1357034X14538849

Blackman, L. (2008). The body : The key concepts (English ed., The key concepts, 1747-6550). Oxford: Berg.

Foley, P., Levine, E., Askew, S., Puleo, E., Whiteley, J., Batch, B., Heil, D., e al. (2012). Weight gain prevention among black women in the rural community health center setting: the Shape program. BMC public health, 12(1), 305. Doi:10.1186/1471-2458-12-305

Leach Scully, J. (2012). Disability and the thinking body. In S. Gonzalez-Arnal, G. Jagger, G., and K. Lennon (Eds.), Embodied selves (pp. 139-159). London, GB: Palgrave Macmillan

Rubin, L., Fitts, M., & Becker, A. (2003). “Whatever feels good in my soul”: Body ethics and aesthetics among african american and latina women. Culture, Medicine and Psychiatry : An International Journal of Comparative Cross-Cultural Research,27(1), 49-75. doi:10.1023/A:1023679821086

The NBA’s Tough-on-Crime Moment

– By Brandon Wallace

Brandon is a Master’s student in Physical Cultural Studies at the University of Maryland, College Park.

While the divide between players and executives in the National Football League (NFL) has rightfully dominated media sporting discourse over the last couple of years, a similar dilemma is quietly emerging in the National Basketball Association (NBA) – although for a different reason. One of the most prominent stories of the first half of the NBA season has been the seemingly deteriorating relationship between players and referees. Players have expressed frustration with the referees for increasingly showing disrespect to players on the court and having a ‘quick trigger’ when doling out technical fouls, ejections, and flagrant fouls (fouls that refs deem unnecessary, excessive, un-basketball-like, or violent, which amount to player fines). This is not a problem exclusive to rank-and-file players; the stars have arguably been hit the hardest. Big names such as LeBron James, Stephen Curry, Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant, and others have all been ejected this season for transgressions that most agree did not warrant punishment that excessive. Referees, on the other hand, have voiced their frustration concerning players criticizing them on the court, sensing what they perceive to be a fleeting level of authority.

Continue reading “The NBA’s Tough-on-Crime Moment”

The McDonaldization of Racial Profiling in the Police Force

– By Tori Thompson

Tori is a Master’s student in Physical Cultural Studies at the University of Maryland, College Park.

Racial profiling in police forces is a systemic national problem. Even though the United States Constitution states that “all men are created equal” and prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures, state police departments continue to abuse the law for the ‘betterment of society’. Looking through the lens of sociologist George Ritzer’s Weberian concept of “McDonaldization,” I argue that racial profiling has become McDonaldized in American police culture. McDonaldization is “the process by which the principles of the fast food restaurant are coming to dominate more and more sectors of American society as well as the rest of the world” (Ritzer, 2004). The principles of the fast food industry Ritzer refers to are efficiency, calculability, rationality and predictability. Currently, we can see the prevalence of these principles in American police protocol via racial profiling. This post argues that racial profiling has become a rationalized system of national crime fighting standards and illustrates how the principles of McDonaldization influence the marginalization of people of color.

Continue reading “The McDonaldization of Racial Profiling in the Police Force”

Skinny is the New Fat

– By Sunny Zhang

Sunny Zhang is a Ph.D. student in Physical Cultural Studies at the University of Maryland, College Park.

Rail (2012) talks about eight postcards and counter-postcards in terms of an “obesity epidemic.”  A postcard is a picture painted to emulate truth in a specific moment while arbitrarily constructing a certain reality.  It creates a scene of simplicity out of a picture much more complex.  Through the repetition of these scenes however, postcards tend to spread misunderstandings that ultimately become truth.  While the postcards summarize the dominant views related to obesity and are motivated in no small part by greed and profit, counter-postcards dispute the distorting and over simplified postcards and provide alternative views.  Those dubbed by Mundy as “Obesity Inc.” (Mundy, 2001) are the push behind the disseminating of those postcards, which lead to unnecessarily medicalizing obesity, distorting statistics on the consequences of growing weights, ignoring the complicated realities associated with being fat, diverting scarce resources, and distracting public health efforts (Herrick, 2007).  In reading Rail (2012), I realize how categorizing obesity as an epidemic disease along with other more serious diseases, such as cancers, heart diseases, and AIDS, benefits the “Obesity Inc” including private gyms.  Many gyms in China receive governmental support and large tax deductions for the purposes of improving public health and disciplining obese bodies, despite already being lucrative businesses.  They are the ones who disseminate the ideas and preconceptions relating a fat body to obesity, and further spreading obesity’s relationship to various health problems.  By spreading this view, more and more people perceive themselves as sick or at-risk and, therefore, in need of treatment. The ideal treatment, including exercise and diet, thereby directly benefits businesses like gyms.

Continue reading “Skinny is the New Fat”

PCS Students Reflect on Colin Kaepernick and National Anthem Protest Coverage

Graduate students here at the University of Maryland’s Physical Cultural Studies program have been profoundly affected and engaged with the recent national media coverage concerning Colin Kaepernick, President Donald Trump, and the protests by professional athletes to raise awareness about police brutality and race relations.  Below are three short essays from PCS students, as they reflect on the news and how it impacts their own studies as critical scholars of sport.

Continue reading “PCS Students Reflect on Colin Kaepernick and National Anthem Protest Coverage”

The Guardian: “Expensive academic conferences give us old ideas and no new faces”

In their recent article for The GuardianJulian Kircherr and Asit Biswas posit the important point that the costs of attending contemporary academic conferences have dramatically increased, to the detriment and exclusion of early-career researchers.  Many researchers “who manage to attend academic conferences,” Kircherr and Biswas write, “expect many benefits. They hope to find their next collaborators. They hope to broaden their horizons to develop new research ideas.”  The author’s experiences, however, suggest otherwise: “…conferences usually do not deliver on these promises. There are always the same old faces, with a few more wrinkles every year, using obfuscating jargon to present the same old stuff.”

In the article, Kircherr and Biswas raise important, fascinating points about the politics of the academic conference industry and the struggles early-career researchers endure in their attempts to enter various fields of inquiry.  You can read their full article here.

New Podcast Episode – History of Physical Culture in Suburbia

A new episode has just been posted by Somatic Podcast, the ongoing digital audio and critical sport studies project founded by Physical Cultural Studies alumnus Dr. Oliver Rick of Springfield College and current PhD candidate Sam Clevenger.  In this episode, Dr. Rick explores the history of American suburbia and the relation of physical activity spaces to the development of suburban communities.  He talks suburbanization history with lauded American historian Dr. Andrew Wiese, author of the award-winning 2004 book Places of Their Own: African American Suburbanization in the Twentieth Century.  He also talks in the episode with local residents of the suburban community of Lexington, Massachusetts, discussing how residents have worked to preserve green and physically active spaces within the community.

You can listen to the episode via the Soundcloud link below, or on Somatic Podcast’s website.

Femininity: Measuring Up

– By Sunny Zhang

Sunny Zhang is a Ph.D. student in Physical Cultural Studies at the University of Maryland, College Park.

My parents did not love me less because I was a girl.  I was eight years old when I learned taking off my shirt in a martial arts class was inappropriate for a girl. It wasn’t until then that I paid attention to the gender comportments.  When I was nine, my mom finally overruled my dad, who always liked to keep my hair short, saying I should have long hair because I’m a girl.  When I was 11, on the Henan wushu professional team, I started to accept that boys were stronger than girls and that it was okay for boys to be better than me.  Even in my early twenties, trying to pursue my academic dreams, my mom attempted to dissuade me from applying to Master’s and Ph.D. programs because I was a girl. She cited a litterateur from 400 years ago who said, “Not having too much knowledge is the virtue of women.”  These behaviors, derived from gender differences, do not originate from the anatomy but are the cultural constructions of a society.

Continue reading “Femininity: Measuring Up”