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Caster Semenya To Run Again- As A WOMAN

April 12, 2010

South African middle distance runner Caster Semenya saw the most private details of, well, her private parts- splashed across newspapers and gossip rags the world over last year when racing officials questioned her gender.

Semenya was coming off a glorious victory at the 2009 World Championships when the International Association of Athletics Federations stepped in and demanded the then 18 year old submit to testing.

Saying they were obligated to investigate after Semenya’s running time improved dramatically from one year to the next, the IAAF wasn’t concerned the runner was taking performance enhancing drugs as one might suspect.  Instead the Federation questioned her womanhood altogether and a media circus seemed to take over with rumors and unverified reports claiming everything from doctors discovering Semenya was a hermaphrodite to a transexual. 

Many opined Semenya was too “ugly” to be a “real” woman; she wore her hair in short cornrows and never wore make up.  She didn’t have big breasts, was extremely muscular and didn’t shave under her arms (a crime, apparently).

Her family and her country were outraged at the treatment, insisting Semenya was clearly of female gender and any insinuation otherwise was a slap in the face.  In fact the IAAF claimed it has no concern about cheating, but instead mused Semenya may suffer a rare medical condition which gives her unfair advantage over other women.

Gender verification was dropped from Olympic sports in 1999 as the issue was delicate and scientifically complicated. The verification involves examinations by an endocrinologist, a gynecologist, an internal medicine expert, an expert on gender and a psychologist, and takes several weeks. This is not the first time the IAAF has asked for gender verification although generally the athletes maintain their privacy.

Athletics South Africa 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.  The president of the IAAF stated that the case could have been handled with more sensitivity but it seems no investigation was ever conducted to determine how the information became public in the first place.

Semenya retained the prestigious legal firm Dewey & LeBoeuf who work pro bono “to make certain that her civil and legal rights and dignity as a person are fully protected.” 

It was a representative from Dewey & LeBoeuf who reported to a South African news agency that test conclusively prove Caster Semenya is a woman- inside and out- and should return to competing immediately; the IAAF sees it differently.

From the Associated Press:

Semenya’s lawyers said the IAAF has delayed Semenya’s comeback while it evaluates its own results, and the lengthy process had frustrated her.

“The fact that she was prohibited or prevented from competing in Stellenbosch (last week) was a big frustration to her,” Phiri said, “because as far as she’s concerned and as far as everyone around her is concerned, there really is nothing that is stopping her from participating in female athletics competitions.”

The world champion’s lawyers also told eNews that Semenya would not compete until June because “we didn’t want to run a collision course either with Athletics South Africa or the IAAF.”


While the IAAF has yet to release its test results, the admission that Semenya will return in June seems to be proof enough that this young woman has proven herself to be who she knew she was all along- a woman.


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