Tuesday, 18 June 2019

Caster Semenya: The Case Against the IAAF

The CAS rejected Caster Semenya’s appeal against a new IAAF regulation requiring competitors in the 400 and 800 meters disciplines to take medication to regulate their testosterone levels if they are classified as having hyperandrogenism. The ruling found that the regulation was reasonable and fair to protect the integrity of competition. When news of CAS’ ruling originally broke I instantly disagreed with it, considering it to not properly understand the nature of discrimination. My view was that if a person was legally recognised as a woman then no professional organisation had a right to limit their right to participate in any activities as a woman. However, I then read some material about the biological and physiological nature of the XY condition and felt I needed to give the matter more thought. I needed to explore whether the condition was a natural physical one or actually altered their gender at a more subliminal level.

CAS’ decision to include testosterone levels as a criterion in the definition of a woman feels fundamentally flawed. Testosterone is a naturally occurring hormone in human beings whose levels the individual cannot naturally alter. Therefore it isn’t within the individual’s purview to choose what level occurs in them. This would make it naturally occurring and reasonably permissible, as long as there has been no manual ingestion or physical manipulation. The definition fails to make a distinction between what is normal and what is natural. While the condition that has resulted in the higher levels of testosterone is not the norm amongst women it is perfectly naturally occurring in the women with the condition. They therefore should not be penalised or stigmatised because of it. To not  allow them to participate professionally would be unfair and directly discriminatory. Being exceptional is not an unusual thing in sports. Be it height, coordination, reflexes, speed, physicality; the history of sport is defined by individuals with exceptional characteristics.

The CAS ruling stipulated that any discrimination involved in the IAAF decision was reasonable and necessary to ensure the integrity of the sport. That doesn’t actually compute. The standard for performance in athletics is on a continuum between qualifying cut off and world record. The participation of these athletes has not prevented anyone from qualifying for an event. To the best of my knowledge none of the women with the targeted condition has broken a world record or actually been close to doing so. It would therefore stand to reason that if he world record was set by women with ‘normal’ levels of testosterone then they would not have been disadvantaged by the participation of the athletes currently being targeted. So it would appear that these athletes are being penalised because the rest of the current field are not able to perform to a higher level. This in effect saying that because the current crop aren’t good enough to beat these athletes then it can’t be fair.

It appears from the actions taken by the IAAF that it considers testosterone levels to be the single or overwhelming factor responsible for the performance of the female athletes with the condition. It isn’t clear what evidence it has to that effect. Certainly, there are other women with that condition who are not excelling over those distances in athletics. In fact, for all we know there might be women out whose athleticism is hindered by the condition. The IAAF decision suggests any woman with the condition would automatically have an unfair advantage over those distances. We do not know that is true to any degree. The women who are doing well have trained, applied themselves and developed skills to enable them to excel. That presumably doesn’t just come with higher testosterone levels.

Doriane Coleman wrote an article declaring the CAS ruling a victory for female athletes. Her position was that these women were to all intents and purposes male and their participation would deny ‘females’ the chance to win in competition. Her implication that these athletes are unbeatable is clearly erroneous. They have been beaten and would be beaten anyone running close to a world record. And the suggestion that if other athletes are not winning then it devalues the competition is just nonsense. When Ed Moses was on his winning streak he was lauded for it. And I thought the spirit of sport was in the dignity of competing and giving it your all. It shouldn’t be just about winning.

The IAAF requiring athletes to take medication to lower their testosterone levels is not only unfair but also unreasonable. Does it know what impact this might have on their personal and sporting lives? Denying them the opportunity to participate professionally unless they take medication is not too dissimilar to an employer refusing a woman a job unless she agrees to take contraception to avoid getting pregnant during the period of employment.

The IAAF has a duty of care to all athletes and is responsible for the regulation of the sport. However, it should not risk the health and wellbeing of a minority group of athletes to appease the sensitivities of a larger majority. There is no way that these athletes are destroying the integrity of the sport and they should not be subject to unverified medical procedures to satisfy some people’s notion of normality. In so much as this ruling appears to target a select group and seeks to prevent them from participation then it is unfair and discriminatory. Sport should never be about curtailing natural ability.

Tuesday, 7 May 2019

Shades of Pastel

Innocent yet no one feels more guilty.
The wisdom of the ancients but full of naivety. 
Beautiful beyond belief but marked by self doubt. 
Sweet but sour like a luscious stout. 

You look for that which you should be listening for. 
You reach out for that for which you should be looking to your inner core. 
Uphill and slippery,
Not given much to chivalry. 
Assuredly uncertain, always questioning, 
Yet still sure as a reckoning. 

Do you walk or just sit around? 
Do you talk or just stand your ground? 
Just like the aftermath of a wine spill,
Somehow just never able to chill. 

In my arms or in my heart,
Still held dearly though so far apart. 
There’s a lot to put on one page 
And this is just the first stage. 

Friday, 26 April 2019

Yo Johannesburg, Why So Sour?!

I have only been in Johannesburg for a little over a week; and it has already provoked some mixed feelings in me so far. I recognise that South Africa is a massive country covering a huge geographical area, and with a rich diversity indigenous and migrant ethnicities. However, the latent hostility I have observed coming off people in Joburg is nothing short of saddening.

It’s understandable that concerns about safety and security might make people cautious and wary. However, as a Black African visiting the city walking the streets feels like running a gauntlet. There just appears to be a distinct lack of consideration and care for others mixed in with the cautiousness that dogs people’s every step. People might instinctively sense a foreign presence and feel a degree of  suspicion. But a person going about his business innocuously shouldn’t come across as threatening.

A friend mentioned the fact that the wave of xenophobia spreading across South Africa makes for a less than pleasant atmosphere at times. There have been reports of incidents of immigrants from other African countries being threatened and attacked. Unfortunately it does not appear that these are just isolated instances of some brewing bitterness between nationalities. I am Nigerian and so may be considered an understandable target. However, it wouldn’t be apparent on seeing me walking down the street what nationality I am. I know I am Nigerian but the cold stares and shoulders I observe don’t really seem to make any distinction.

Another explanation might be that the South African psyche bruised and battered through the apartheid era hasn’t healed yet and still isn’t healing now. The decades since the dismantling of apartheid haven’t heralded a golden era social development. The combination of political spoils sharing and a reluctance to implement comprehensive social welfare reform has left parts of the population experiencing extremes of deprivation and social exclusion. The recent flooding in the KwaZulu-Natal Province has demonstrated that local government has been equally as ineffective as the national government in taking care of those people most in need.

South Africa has been plagued by the continuing spread of AIDS and HIV, poverty, violent crime, alcohol and substance misuse, and mental illness. While these are not typical of just South Africa the country’s approach to tackling these problems will be seen by some as abandoning the ideals of equality and social justice of all that were so dearly fought for during the apartheid era. There is definitely a need for a stronger push for social welfare and healthcare reform in the country. This should be supported by a national mental health strategy that not only starts to tackle the mental scars of the past and present, but also focuses on equipping the children and youth with the skills and resilience needed to ensure better emotional wellbeing as they go through life.

While social problems are not unique to South Africa there is a lot more the government could be doing to tackle them. The noncommittal approach to making life better for all only serves to entrench both the feelings and experience of inequality. Economic development without social security will only lead to social dysfunction and disorder. Something needs to be done to put a smile on the faces of South Africans. Let’s hope the politicians decide to make that a priority.

Sunday, 31 March 2019

Brexit: Theresa May's Bunker Buster

Brexit has proven to be Theresa May’s own personal Waterloo. Not so much because of the epic disaster it has turned into for her but because it has exposed her as the pedestrian politician she really is. Had David Cameron not resigned after the EU Referendum vote she would not have found herself catapulted into the role of prime minister. Had that not happened she would have continued her mediocre error prone stewardship in a ministerial capacity. 

As it is Theresa May assumed the role of prime minister promising; "Brexit means Brexit", "no deal is better than a bad deal" and the UK was about to take world trade agreements to a whole new level. What we are now left with is an ineffectual leader who has both failed to rally her own troops or put up much of a fight against her foreign opposition.

What we have seen is a prime minister who threw away her parliamentary majority, attempted (unsuccessfully) to conceal her true intentions during Brexit negotiations, and really has ended up broken and on her knees at a time the nation needs strong leadership. Theresa May has at every step of the way in the Brexit journey sacrificed sound management for political expediency. She came up with a deal that she didn't canvas support for before presenting it to the EU because she knew it was unlikely to be found acceptable by Westminster factions but she knew she could get agreement with the EU on it. This was despite the fact that she knew she had to come back to Westminster to have it ratified. Her strategy seems to have been to present Parliament with a 'fait accompli' then blame everyone else for not agreeing a deal. This was even though she knew her deal would not be agreeable to anyone.

I don't think Theresa May can be blamed for leaping at the opportunity to be prime minister. However, her almost total lack of a sense of duty that should come with the role has been startling. At every turn she seems to have opted to try and secure her position rather than secure the nation's best interests. Her initial cabinet appointments were designed to curry favour with the Brexiteers in the Conservative Party. At the early stage of negotiations with the EU she opted to go for a transitional post exit arrangement rather than embrace the nettle of actually negotiating new trade tariffs with EU. Even if she had agreed some indicative interim tariffs at that time it might have provided some reassurance to the public and economy about what to expect. Instead, she was swayed by the Business sector to go for a transitional period and remain in the Custom Union. She hadn't factored in the issue of what would happen to border arrangements in Ireland after the end of the transitional period.

Had Mrs May paused to think about the need to make some tough choices it might have occurred to her that the Republic of Ireland needed to maintain the trading status quo even more than the UK did. That is something she could have used as leverage in the negotiations rather than falling to her knees leopard skin pumps in hand begging for a transition period. By restricting her own options May allowed the Republic of Ireland to secure a veto when in fact it should have been pleading for a reasonable compromise.

At this point the British Government has run out of both ideas and time to negotiate an acceptable withdrawal from the EU. Theresa May has to take a huge part of the responsibility for that. Not only did she make a lot of wrong choices but she also appointed a lot of incompetent and uncommitted ministers. For a woman who has been the consummate political operator it appears that Theresa May’s political capital has finally run out. Unfortunately neither the nation nor history will judge her kindly and that is the tragic legacy of her long and dogged political career.

Wednesday, 20 February 2019

London Policing Twenty Years on from the Macpherson Report

It has been twenty years since the Macpherson Report into the London Metropolitan Police handling of the racist murder of Stephen Lawrence. Doreen Lawrence, Stephen's mother' has suggested that gains in the aftermath of the Macpherson Inquiry report have not been built upon. However, Cressida Dick, the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, claims that the Met has made great progress and come a long way.

Since the Macpherson Inquiry there has been the Tottenham Riots in 2011 following the police shooting to death of Mark Duggan. The riots subsequently spread to the rest of London and nationwide. There was the shooting of Azelle Rodney in 2005. Rodney was shot to death by a police marksman while in a car with two associates. An inquiry later found the shooting unlawful. There was the shooting to death of John Charles de Menezes in 2005 following the July 7 terror attack. He was shot in a case of mistaken identity and the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police was later found guilty and fined for a failure of duty of care. In 2008 Sean Rigg died in police custody as a result of being restrained by police officers. Olaseni Lewis died on a mental health ward following prolonged restraint by police officers. Dalian Atkinson, an ex England international footballer, died in 2016 after being tasered by police officers whilst in mental health crisis. In 2017 Edson da Costa died after he subdued by CS gas following a car stop by police. In 2017 Rashan Charles died after being restrained by a police officer who suspected him of swallowing a contraband substance.

In 2017/2018 twenty three people died in police custody or following police interventions. This was the highest figure recorded in ten years.

In the consideration of where the Metropolitan Police is twenty years after Macpherson there has been a lot of talk about how much the proportion of officers from minority ethnic groups has increased (from 3% to 14%). There has also been mention of race awareness and community engagement training being carried out. The suggestion is that it is now a different police force. However, is it a better police force in regards to its strategic approach to police minorities, or managing minority police officers?

It is possible that structures and image awareness in the Met has changed but have attitudes moved on all that much? People from minority groups are still having negative experiences of policing in London on a daily basis. And a lot of police officers still see Black people as threatening, and likely to offend. Senior police officers are less likely to show any confidence or offer insightful guidance when dealing with cases involving people from minority ethnic groups. It is unclear whether the progression of minority ethnic officers in the force has significantly improved; or whether minority ethnic officers generally feel well supported, free from prejudice, and empowered in their jobs.

While some things have changed since Macpherson it is clear that the Metropolitan Police really cannot beat its chest about how well it has done in managing issues of race in minority ethnic communities or police officers. There is in no doubt that it could do more and do better. The real issue is how much does the Met itself know that that is the case.


Monday, 7 January 2019

New What?

What’s the difference between a new year, a new day, a new dawn, or even a new leaf? Maybe it’s that a new year represents a time to take stock of one’s life; and challenge oneself anew. A new day is a bell to answer the call of a continuing grind. A new dawn is a joyous vision of hope for better things to come. And a new leaf is a promise of redemption.

The not so simple truth is that every second of our lives represents a new beginning. It is a new investment of time in living and pursuing life's goals and obligations. It could be just a thought or maybe the simplest action. What it represents is an opportunity for us that do something good, be someone better, and make the best way of the time and life we have. The value of newness is that we getting to experience something anew or seize upon an opportunity to take a fresh approach to something. The attitude with which we approach things is what in effect gives them that quality of newness.

A new point in time won’t make us perfect even if we pass through it on the crest of great success. And it won't make us failures even if we are confronted by challenges and setbacks. The key to making each moment fresh and relevant is to learn the lessons, step forward with resolution and make it count for us as individuals, for the people around us, and for the world as a whole.

Monday, 31 December 2018

Am I ...?

Who is the real person we are?

Is it who we are born as?
Is it our body?
Is it our mind?
Is it our consciousness?
Is it our soul?
Is it the sum total of our experiences?

How much of who we are is who we want to be and not just how we are created, and conditioned to be? Is there a separation between our principles and values, and how they direct out lives? When we adopt certain characteristics and attitudes to try and improve ourselves do they really define us or just become a reflection of how we want the world to see us; or even possibly how we actually want to see ourselves?

Can we truly be aware of who we really are or is it others' perception of us that defines who we are? As human beings at times we do cultivate idealised versions of ourselves and the world around us. More often than not it is this idealised version of ourselves that we spend a lifetime trying to project. This ideal might consist of standards and values we have learnt, perceptions of what is popular or characteristics we have adopted through trial and error. These are what over time become recognised as our personality. However, very often these can turn out to be just the mask that we unconsciously adopt as the face we show the world.

There are people whose personalities develop along a unique trajectory and are determined by socialisation only to a limited extent. Very often these are high functioning or sociopathic individuals. The ability to form and maintain a unique self identity largely free from normative determination  requires great intelligence and will. It is also a fragile construct which can shatter and fracture a person's psyche at the slightest shift in the balance.

What we are is human; flesh and bone that live and eventually die. Who we are on the other hand, is an infinitely more complex notion. Too often we are just what the world wants us to be. Some of us are outsiders trying to plot our own paths in a world demanding consensus. And there are those of us who are in a cocoon just trying to be who we need to be and survive while the world rages around us.