Some days it is almost possible to feel sorry for Lord Coe. He watched, powerless, in Doha last Friday as an ethical minefield ran the fastest time in the 800 metres this year. Caster Semenya is back and, quite possibly, on course for Olympic gold.
Not that she is doing anything wrong. She runs with the body a believer would argue God gave her. Yet that body is unique. Precise details remain private but it is believed Semenya has natural genetic advantages as an athlete.
Previously, they were controlled; now they are not. And the debate over this decision and its ramifications may dominate the agenda around her sport this summer.
Caster Semenya gives thumbs up after victory in the Women’s 800 metres final in the Doha IAAF Diamond League 2016 meeting at Qatar Sports Club on Friday
It is believed Semenya (left) has natural genetic advantages as an athlete and is possibly on course for gold at the Rio Olympics
Semenya, a South African middle-distance runner, became famous after her 800m win at the 2009 World Athletics Championships. Just hours before the final it was revealed she had been required to undergo gender testing.
The case caused massive controversy and was handled so poorly by the IAAF and South African authorities that subsequently gender testing was replaced by an upper limit for the testosterone levels of female athletes.
Semenya’s hormones, it was concluded, aided her. She was required to take other hormones as balance. Since when, she slipped down the rankings. Semenya took Olympic silver in 2012 but, while she remained a fine athlete, she was no longer exceptional. Friday brought her first Diamond League win since 2011.
Then, in July 2015, an Indian sprinter, Dutee Chand, won a case at the Court of Arbitration for Sport. Chand also has naturally-occurring high testosterone, but her lawyers argued it was discrimination to not allow her to make the most of genetic advantages.
Dutee Chand (left) won a case at the Court of Arbitration when her lawyers successfully argued it was discrimination not to allow her to make the most of her genetic advantages
Basketball players are not sanctioned for being tall, and men are not screened for testosterone levels. A male runner could also have a genetic benefit but that would be permitted.
The IAAF were charged with proving that Chand’s hormones made her closer to a male competitor than female, and couldn’t. There is now a two-year suspension of the rule while further investigations are made — and Semenya is coincidentally a different athlete.
Her coach, Jean Verster, says her current form is unrelated to changes in hormone treatment, but many are sceptical. At the South African championships in April she became the first person to win 400m, 800m and 1500m.
Semenya’s 400m and 800m times were the fastest in the world this year and she didn’t even look fully extended. It was the same in Doha in the 800m. She has run the two fastest 800m times in the world this season, the fifth fastest 400m and is two places outside the top 20 in the 1500m. If she arrives in Rio and cleans up, the debate around her will rage again.
‘Remember, she’s a human being, she didn’t make herself,’ says Verster, and rightly. Yet the IAAF were disappointed by the Court of Arbitration decision, feeling counteraction of hormones was a legitimate compromise.
The only person capable of beating Semenya in London in 2012, Russia’s Mariya Savinova, has latterly been exposed as a drug cheat. What if rivals argue cheating is their only chance if Semenya is on the start line?
This is the IAAF dilemma. An appeal could penalise an athlete for making best use of her natural physical state. The alternative is a race with one winner.
Mariya Savinova (pictured in 2013), the only athlete capable of beating Semenya at London 2012 has been exposed as a drugs cheat
German game’s gone stale
In April 2013 it was revealed Borussia Dortmund midfielder Mario Gotze would sign for Bayern Munich. The following November Robert Lewandowski announced he would be making the same journey. Now defender Mats Hummels has followed. The end for the Bundesliga some are calling it. What took them so long?
The moment Dortmund had to sell to Munich, the Bundesliga was over. The German title has been shared between those clubs in all bar three seasons since 1998-99. When Dortmund became Munich’s feeder club – that was it.
Jurgen Klopp left because he recognised this, the world turns off because they know it, even Pep Guardiola’s trio of titles are downgraded because the Bundesliga is uncompetitive.
Dortmund remained in touch for longer this season because they have retained players such as Marco Reus. Yet they kept Reus because Munich decided they had a surplus of attacking players and did not trigger his buy-out clause.
Maybe they even made a political decision, to keep Dortmund close enough to afford the illusion of competition. Now they’ve got too close — the title race actually went to May this year — so Munich have gift-wrapped Dortmund’s captain as a present to their new coach, Carlo Ancelotti.
It is incredible that only now do opinion formers in Germany consider this the move too far. The Bundesliga has been a dead rubber for several seasons and the only way to rescue it is to allow the same freedom that caused competition inside the Premier League to explode: owner investment.
Munich resist it, because with the German game in its present state, it represents the only way they can be challenged.
Mats Hummels is the latest Borussia Dortmund star to join rivals Bayern Munich in a deal worth £30million
As everything at Brentford is put through the analytics wringer, one presumes statistics do not just govern recruitment, but player sales. So it must have been some set of numbers that persuaded them to sell Andre Gray to Burnley – even for a club record £6million.
Gray has scored 23 goals in 41 league games as Burnley returned to the Premier League.
Brentford, meanwhile, have fallen from fifth to ninth, collecting 13 points fewer than last season. With promotion worth in excess of £100m, Brentford’s computer might need a reset.
Andre Gray (left) celebrates after his 23 goals helped seal Burnley’s promotion to the Premier League
My England XI for Euro 2016
Roy Hodgson will pick his squad of 23 for the European Championship on Monday. This is mine and I wouldn’t expect the two to be greatly different – Fabian Delph over Danny Drinkwater for Hodgson, perhaps.
Goalkeepers: Hart, Forster, Heaton.
Defenders: Walker, Clyne, Rose, Bertrand, Smalling, Cahill, Stones.
Midfielders: Dier, Milner, Alli, Barkley, Lallana, Wilshere, Drinkwater, Sterling, Henderson.
Forwards: Rooney, Sturridge, Vardy, Kane.
And my starting XI?
Hart; Walker, Smalling, Cahill, Rose; Dier, Wilshere; Rooney, Alli, Vardy; Kane.
Leicester midfielder and Premier League winner Danny Drinkwater makes Martin Samuel’s England squad
Core blimey! The West Ham fan with a Moore bombshell
Now that West Ham have left Upton Park — never the Boleyn Ground, which is a branding exercise and no more — there seems to be a lot of talk about what an asset a football club is to the surrounding community.
This is coming as quite the surprise to those who have had to listen to cant about the Olympic Stadium, and how West Ham are bringing no value to the deal.
There have even been suggestions that West Ham should help the affected businesses, such as Nathan’s Pie and Mash. You know, the way Tottenham and Arsenal helped the firms that stood in the way of their progress, with Compulsory Purchase Orders.
West Ham played their final game at Upton Park on Tuesday night ahead of the switch to the Olympic Stadium
So what is it? Have West Ham kept alive a corner of east London, and will now help do the same for the Olympic Park — or is the local community utterly immune to having a thriving football club on its doorstep, and West Ham’s presence inconsequential? Because you can’t have it both ways.
Anyway, happy days and all that. The best team I ever saw over there was Dinamo Tbilisi in the quarter-final of the European Cup-Winners’ Cup in 1981. They had knocked Liverpool out of the European Cup the previous season, 4-2 on aggregate, but somehow it had not registered that this was one of Europe’s great sides.
The game hadn’t long started when a series of one-touch passes ended with Aleksandr Chivadze picking up the ball inside his own half, surging through the middle and hitting a shot from 30 yards that utterly defeated the world’s most expensive goalkeeper, Phil Parkes. And Chivadze was their centre half. West Ham lost 4-1 and it could have been 24-1. Tbilisi went on to win the tournament.
Of course, it’s hard to be wholly thrilled watching your team get pulverised, so my favourite game would have to be April 14, 1976 — West Ham 3 Eintracht Frankfurt 1. Another European Cup- Winners’ Cup tie, the semi-final this time, and 2-1 down from the first leg. It never stopped raining, the pitch was a bog, but Trevor Brooking floated across it, scored twice and West Ham won 3-1.
Aleksandr Chivadze (right) scored as Dinamo Tbilisi beat West Ham and Frank Lampard Snr (left) 4-1 in the Cup Winners’ Cup back in 1981
Pat Holland (left) and Trevor Brooking celebrate in the dressing room after the Hammers beat Eintracht Frankfurt in 1976
So, farewell Upton Park. There wasn’t a terrace I haven’t stood on – even the away end after turning up late and following a claret-and-blue scarf through the wrong turnstile when we played Aston Villa – not a stand I haven’t sat in, and we did have some laughs. There used to be a bloke who had season tickets behind my dad. He used to eat apples, talk and curse the players at the same time, so he’d inadvertently spit the bits into your hair. His claim was that he had never missed a home game since the war.
One day, a few around us were reminiscing about Bobby Moore. As a kid I was all ears. ‘I’ll tell you about Bobby Moore…’ said our old-timer, and we all went quiet, waiting for this pearl of wisdom and insight, polished by the experience of observation through the years.
‘You know the one problem with Bobby Moore?’ he said, munching. ‘He couldn’t pass.’
Very knowledgeable crowd, West Ham. Some of them.
West Ham legend Bobby Moore is an Upton Park great but one fan didn’t rate his passing ability…
And while we’re at it…
This season’s Roger Nouveau award goes to author Julian Barnes, who took up significant space in The Guardian last week telling everyone how he’s been a Leicester City supporter for 65 years — apart from the 35 or so when he also supported Partick Thistle.
There were no tales of regular trips to the King Power Stadium, although he had seen a couple of away games in London, and most weekends he didn’t look for Leicester’s result because that would spoil Match of the Day, but he did find time for a little dig at sportswriters — or pundits as he sneeringly called them — for not spotting this season’s obvious title winner, at 5,000-1.
But here’s my favourite bit. ‘If Leicester can win the Premier League, why shouldn’t England win the Euros on 10 July? There are good reasons, of course — called Germany, Spain, Italy, France and Holland…’
This would be Holland who finished fourth in their qualifying group and didn’t make the tournament, yes? Now I’m only a mere sportswriter, not an aficionado like Julian, but I’m willing to wager England will do better than them. Indeed, if Julian fancies backing Holland I’d give him odds of, say, 5,000-1. Soccer!
Look up Leicester
Not every team in League Two is full of unearthed gems. A lot of players are down there for good reason. So it is irrational that Leicester should stick with a bargain basement recruitment policy simply to satisfy some bogus and patronising fairytale narrative.
They are the league champions, they are in the Champions League as top seeds — and while this does not preclude elevating players from smaller clubs, it does not mean that is all they should do.
It is certainly no betrayal of policy that Islam Slimani, of Sporting Lisbon, is on Leicester’s list of transfer targets — and valued in the region of £25million. Slimani has scored 26 goals in 32 league games for Sporting but is known for his low-key, professional outlook and his hard-working style. He appears to fit Leicester’s work ethic, which is more important than simply coming cheap.
Another contender is Gianluca Lapadula of Serie B side Pescara. Leicester may have competition there from Juventus, but that is how it should be. Only those who have adopted Leicester as some romantic ideal do not wish them to grow; real Leicester fans understand the club must continue looking up.
Leicester are interested in Sporting Lisbon forward Islam Slimani and must continue looking up
The two most engaging stories from the Premier League are Leicester’s title win and Bournemouth’s survival. They have managed on gates of just 11,189 — little more than half that of nearest rivals, Watford. Yet neither would be anywhere near the Premier League had they stuck to financial fair play rules.
Bournemouth have been forced to pay £7.6million for FFP breaches in the Football League. Leicester’s punishment will be similar. Further proof that FFP was always a tax on ambition and favoured the conservative, the uninspired and the existing elite.
The investments made by Bournemouth and Leicester worked magnificently. How can the Football League make enterprise and initiative illegal just because some get it wrong?
Newcastle and Norwich will be relegated if Sunderland beat Everton tonight. They may be buoyed to know that Sunderland have won a single home game against Everton since 2001 — but less encouraged by Everton’s performance against Leicester on Saturday. On that evidence, Sunderland would get a tougher game from Sunderland Reserves.
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