The World Track and Field Championships begin tomorrow in Eugene and Hayward Field will be host to 10 days of outstanding track and field competition in what is the biggest Meet of the year. “Oregon22” features athletes – including current and former Ducks – from around the world in much the same way the Olympics do. Athletes qualified in their home countries and the field has been finalized in recent days. A total of 15 Ducks will participate in the meet which brought up several media issues in the run-up to the Championships.
Politics are, of course, a frequent visitor to the sports world. In some instances, sports provide a venue to play out geopolitical dramas such as the 1980 US-led boycott of the Soviet-hosted Olympic games where over 60 countries chose not to compete in protest of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, and the mirror-image of the Soviet bloc’s 14-nation boycott of the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles. Individual athletes have used the stage sports provides to deliver messages to sports organizations, their own nations or to the world such as the 1968 Medal stand “raised fist” Black Power protest from US athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos, the Gold and Bronze Medalists in the 200 Meters. At the 2021 NCAA Women’s Basketball tournament, Oregon’s Sedona Prince pointed out some glaring differences in the facilities and equipment available to women athletes versus the much nicer accommodations for the Men’s teams. The ubiquitous nature of today’s social media provides athletes with access to their (sometimes millions of) followers and to the public mind instantaneously.
The two most prominent issues that have caused widespread discussion for Oregon22 are the banning of Russian athletes and limitations put on an intersex athlete from South Africa, Caster Semenya. The exclusion of the Russian athletes, while perhaps not a huge surprise, is a step beyond what international track and field organizations have previously been willing to do and is a direct response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. That invasion, launched on February 24, has earned virtually worldwide condemnation from nations with the exception of a few bad actors. International sanctions, both economic and otherwise, are being used to try to convince Russia to end its occupation of Ukraine and to return to its own borders. International sports organizations have joined in by banning Russian athletes or teams or limiting their participation. Basketball, soccer and hockey governing bodies have banned Russian teams from competition (note: 2022 is a soccer World Cup year, and while Russia might have qualified for the premier worldwide event, their qualification process was terminated). Russian players were not allowed to participate in the Wimbledon tennis tournament which just concluded.
Complete bans are a new tactic. Due to doping violations, to which Russia is hardly a stranger, the nation had previously been banned from all international sports for 4 years starting in late 2019. The results of this were mixed, as while a “Russia” team could not compete, individual Russian athletes who could show they were “clean” of any performance-enhancing drugs were allowed to compete. In the 2021 Summer and 2022 Winter Olympics, these athletes competed under the “Russian Olympic Committee” (ROC) banner.
The impact of these bans and limitations of athletes on Russian political decision-making is not clear. The invasion is on-going, and it could easily be argued that international sports organizations are punishing individuals that have nothing to do with the country’s geopolitical decision-making. But the world community is intent on ending the incursion into Ukraine and is using every tool at its disposal to make that happen and no war is free of collateral damage, no matter how unfair it may seem. The best outcome for Russian athletes is for their nation’s invasion of Ukraine to end immediately.
Mogkadi Caster Semenya is a middle-distance runner who represents South Africa internationally. She has won Olympic Gold Medals in the 800 meters in the 2012 and 2016 Olympic Games and has won the World Championship at that distance 3 times. Semenya is an intersex woman, assigned female at birth, but with elevated testosterone levels due to the presence of XY chromosomes, which the Court of Arbitration for Sport designates “Difference of Sexual Development” (DSD).
Semenya presents a different situation for the international track and field organization than the kind that has been faced by other sports governing bodies recently where a person assigned male at birth has transitioned to female and seeks to compete against other females in various sports. In Semenya’s case, it is her natural testosterone levels that raised questions for World Athletics (formerly the International Amateur Athletic Association - IAAF). As a result of dramatic improvement in her performance, the then-IAAF suspected she might be doping, and subjected Semenya to gender tests which is apparently when the raised testosterone levels were discovered.
After some foot-dragging by IAAF in making these results known, Semenya returned to competition and continued to improve, leading to her Olympic Medals and World Championships. The IAAF had been regulating women’s ability to compete based on high testosterone levels since 2011 and required women with those levels to take medication to reduce them. Semenya complied but noted that she frequently felt ill due to the medications, which makes her accomplishments during this period all the more impressive. In 2015 the Court of Arbitration for Sport found that there was insufficient evidence that higher testosterone levels in women gave them an advantage in competition and gave the IAAF two years to produce such evidence.
In 2018, the IAAF came forward with new rules on the subject, which some believed were designed to impact Semenya’s ability to compete. The rules now prevented women with higher testosterone levels from competing in eight different events, including the 400 meters, 800 meters and 1500 meters. To some, these changes seemed to target Semenya specifically. Semenya was left with the choice to stop competing in her marquee event, or to return to a medication regimen that made her sick. Although Courts have upheld these regulations, World Athletics/IAAF have yet to provide compelling evidence that elevated testosterone levels in women are a competitive advantage in the events to which the restrictions apply.
During Oregon22, Semenya will compete in the 5000 meters but will be prevented from running her specialty, a race in which she is a two-time Olympic Gold Medalist.
Ducks Competing – The final list of competitors for Oregon22 is now complete and 15 Ducks will compete and represent 7 countries. Duck fans will have plenty of chances to root on Oregon athletes. Here is a complete list of Duck competitors by nation represented:
Australia – Jessica Hull – 1500 Meters, 5000 Meters
Canada – Jillian Weir – Hammer
Dominica – Tristan James – Long Jump
France – Shana Grebo* – 4x400 Relay
Italy – Emmanuel Ihemeje* – Triple Jump
Jamaica – Kemba Nelson* – 100 Meters, 4x100 Relay
United States – Devon Allen – 110 Meter Hurdles
United States - Johnny Gregorek – 1500 Meters
United States - Alaysha Johnson – 100 Meter Hurdles
United States - Kyree King – 4x100 Relay
United States - Sam Prakel – 1500 Meters
United States - Jenna Prandini – 200 Meters
United States - Raevyn Rogers – 800 Meters
United States - Galen Rupp – Marathon
United States - Cooper Teare* – 1500 Meters
*Competed for Oregon in the 2021-22 season