September 11, 2009
Caster Semenya, the 18-year old at the center of one of the biggest gender scandals in sports history, withdrew from a weekend race in South Africa amidst unconfirmed reports that her gender tests have revealed that she has both male and female sexual organs.
She was scheduled to compete in the 4,000 meters at the national cross country championships in Pretoria. Semenya's coach, Michael Seme, says his runner "isn't feeling well".
Yesterday, unsubstantiated reports from Australia and England said that Semenya's tests showed that she has no womb or ovaries and produces testosterone levels three times higher than a normal woman. The IAAF thinly denies the reports. (The organization's spokesman says he hasn't "seen" the results, which doesn't mean he hasn't "heard" the results. Nor has the IAAF come out and said that the reports are false.)
The Today Show aired a report on the Semenya situation this morning:
It's another chapter in an unfortunate story. It's easy to get caught up in the sensationalized aspects of Semenya's tale, but let's not forget that she's still just a teenager who is now the centerpiece of an embarrassing worldwide scandal. No matter how things progressed to this point (and we'll get to that later), Semenya is a victim in this story.
But let's operate under assumption that the tests were accurate and that Semenya has intersex conditions. If so, then there are three main questions that will need to be answered soon:
1) Will Semenya be stripped of her gold medal?
Probably. It's hard to imagine that the IAAF would allow Semenya to keep the gold after what these tests reveal. The rules explicitly state that a "gender verification" situation has to be approved and overseen by medical authorities. Semenya didn't do this. Fair or not, a rule is a rule.
2) Will Semenya ever be allowed to run again?
Reading the IAAF rules, it would appear that Semenya would be allowed to run if her condition was treated. Whether or not she would want to is anyone's guess. But there's also a chance she could be banned from running based on the answer to the next question.
3) Who knew about this and when did they know?
We haven't gotten this far down the road yet, but the next logical step in the progression of this sordid affair is whether there was a coverup involved. Regardless of whether the intentions of Semenya and her handlers were nefarious, they had to know of her ambiguous gender. Not having ovaries isn't something that goes unnoticed. If they did, then at what point did this turn from an unfortunate medical situation into outright deception?
If Semenya was an innocent running without knowledge of her condition, then there's not much the IAAF could do other than strip her medal and advise her on how to regain eligibility. But if it can be determined that she knew she was running illegally (which would be tough to prove, but I'm starting to get the feeling that people knew -- how else would other coaches have known to order gender tests?) then there could be heavy sanctions down the road.
These questions will be discussed in the coming weeks and will be the center of attention when the IAAF officially releases its findings in November. If you thought the tale of Caster Semenya was strange before, it's just getting started.
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