Gender Issues in Athletics: Caster Semenya

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Jennifer M. Philips

‘Sex Testing’ of athletes started in 1966. In the 1960’s it was devastating when suddenly individuals were told they were not women by virtue of genetics. It was a barbaric and discriminating practice by the IAAF.

Nancy Navalta and Caster Semenya

Nancy Navalta and Caster Semenya
Photo Credit: http://gelovino.livejournal.com/

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Caster Semenya Gender test (from Wikipedia)

Following Caster Semenya victory at the world championships, questions were raised about her gender.[2][13][21][22]

The IAAF’s handling of the case spurred many negative reactions. A number of athletes, including retired sprinter Michael Johnson, criticized the organization for its response to the incident.[16][23] Prominent South African civic leaders, commentators, politicians, and activists characterized the controversy as racist, as well as an affront to Semenya’s privacy and human rights.[24][25] The IAAF said it only made the test public after it had already been reported in the media, denying charges of racism and expressing regret about “the allegations being made about the reasons for which these tests are being conducted.”[15][26] The federation also explained that the motivation for the test was not suspected cheating but a desire to determine whether she had a “rare medical condition” giving her an unfair competitive advantage.[27] The “condition” was reported to be hermaphroditismIn a 2009 news article The president of the IAAF stated that the case could have been handled with more sensitivity.[28] In an interview with South African magazine YOU Semenya stated, “God made me the way I am and I accept myself.” She also took part in a makeover with the magazine.[29]

On 7 September 2009, Wilfred Daniels, Semenya’s coach with Athletics South Africa (ASA), resigned because he felt that ASA “did not advise Ms. Caster Semenya properly”. He apologized for personally having failed to protect her.[30] ASA President Leonard Chuene admitted on 19 September 2009 to having subjected Semenya to gender tests. He had previously lied to Semenya about the purpose of the tests and to others about having performed the tests. He ignored a request from ASA team doctor Harold Adams to withdraw Semenya from the world championships over concerns about the need to keep her medical records confidential.[31] On the recommendation of South Africa’s Minister for Sport and RecreationMakhenkesi Stofile, Semenya retained the legal firm Dewey & LeBoeuf who are acting pro bono “to make certain that her civil and legal rights and dignity as a person are fully protected.”[32][33][34] Following the furor over her gender, Semenya received great support within South Africa,[16][23] to the extent of being called a cause célèbre.[25]

In November 2009 South Africa’s spoSimple Linksrts ministry issued a statement that Semenya had reached an agreement with the IAAF to keep her medal and the prize money.[35] The ministry did not say if she would be allowed to compete as a woman but they did note that the IAAF’s threshold for when a female is considered ineligible to compete as a woman is unclear.[35] In December 2009 Track and Field News voted Semenya the Number One Women’s 800 metre runner of the year.[36]

 

 

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