Thursday, September 10, 2009

Caster Semenya Gender Mystery Solved

The controversy over South African Olympic runner has taken a strange turn. Tests to determine the biological gender of Caster Semenya established not only extremely high levels of testosterone but the presence of internal male organs. The Brisbane Times reports as follows.

"WORLD champion 800 metre runner Caster Semenya has been revealed to have both male and female sexual organs, posing an ethical and political quandary for the world international athletics body, the IAAF, and South Africa.

Extensive physical and emotional examinations of Semenya, 18, have shown the athlete is technically a hermaphrodite.

Medical reports indicate she has no ovaries, but rather has internal testes, producing amounts of testosterone considered abnormal for a woman."

Efforts to conduct tests to determine if Semenya was properly classified by gender were hampered by indignation among South Africans, who saw racism in the decision to challenge Caster Semenya's qualifications. On a simple human level, sympathy ran high for the Semenya family, whose "fifteen minutes of fame turned into an embarassing examination of personal medical history.

What should be done? Caster Semenya was believed by her family to be a female and was in fact raised as such. She participated in good faith in sports in which she excelled. Despite this, it was discovered that she had a rare medical condition. It would have been far better to conduct the tests privately and to let the current Olympic medal line up stand. A ruling for this rare situation should pertain to future competitions, but not this one. What is far more important is that the feelings of athletes and their families be respected, even as the rules of sportsmanship are upheld and enforced.

There may be significant health issues for Caster Semenya, issues she should get help in addressing. The psychological damage of intrusive publicity should not be part of the mix.

I do not believe racism was involved in flagging Caster Semenya. There were numerous instances of athletes from the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe in the 60's and 70's who were widely reported to have been treated by "sport doctors" in a manner that would not be allowed under current regulations. It is such memories that probably lurk in the back of veteran Olympics observers.

The situation with Caster Semenya is rare. It was handled terribly. It should be studied as a case history on how not to handle such matters in the future. She is an honest athlete in a rare situation. I wish her well. Sphere: Related Content

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