Caster Semenya’s only crime ‘was to be born’
If nothing else, Caster Semenya has earned the respect of thousands of spectators this week, showing amazing poise under the intense spotlight which has rightly or wrongly been glaring on her throughout the duration of these World Championships in Berlin.
The newly-crowned 800m world champion has been the subject of increased speculation over her gender after making the headlines when she set a sensational time of 1:56:72 at the African Junior Championships in Mauritius.
In doing so the 18-year-old had set the fastest time worldwide in the 800m this year and subsequently prompted the International Association of Athletics Federation to demand that the South African Athletics Federation carry out testing to ascertain the gender of Semenya.
Since July, Semenya has been caught up in a media whirlwind after claiming gold in the final of the 800m at the World Championships in Berlin. The dealing of the matter has been held in a very public domain leaving the poor athlete under the scrutiny of the world.
According to IAAF spokesman, Nick Davies, there has been ‘no suggestion’ that the athlete is male and is guilty of cheating by covering up her true gender. Instead, the test will focus on the whether the athlete has a chromosomal disorder.
The examination is not a simple process as it requires in-depth testing to determine the sex of the South African. In truth it is not uncommon for a woman to born with both male organs or chromosomes, (vice versa for a man).
There are over 60,000 intersex people in the world today, so this condition is not unheard of in our society. It occurs in males who are born with XX chromosomes and alternatively with females who have the XY chromosomes. Whether this is the case with Semenya, only the results of the test will tell us.
So far she has only been judged on her external appearance, which strikes the chord of being extremly unfair and inhumane. The girl is of powerful build and clearly has real talent. Nevertheless the IAAF will perservere with their medical examinations with no outcome predicted for some time yet.
If the results yield an abnormal amount of male chromosomes in the athlete’s genetic make-up then the question of a suitable course of action will undoubtedly spark much debate. Should she be stripped of her gold medal?
Leonard Chuene, president of the SAAF, told the media that Semenya’s only crime ‘was to be born’. It reflects poorly on society today that such an inquisition has been held so publicly.
Even before the final of the 800m had commenced, the IAAF had announced that an inquiry into the South African’s gender was to be held. The timing of the announcement couldn’t be any more insensitive just days before the biggest race of her young life.
The treatment of the 800m star has been despicable with the complete abandonment of the principal, ‘innocent until proven guilty’. The question has to be raised, if the athlete dubbed ‘Our Golden Girl’ by a local South African paper, had instead crashed out in the heats of the 800m in Berlin, would there be such controversy over her gender?
The gold medallist deserves credit. She coped admirably under the glare of judgemental eyes examining her features trying to assess was she a male or female. Even amongst her fellow athletes she received criticism with Italian 800m runner, Elisa Piccone, insisting that in her opinion, Samenya ‘is not a woman’.
British bronze medallist, Jenny Meadows, offered her opinion on the situation, sympathizing with the unfortunate plight of the teenager.
“I just feel sorry for Caster,” said Meadows who was 3/100s of a second away from a silver medal. “It’s not a nice position to be in. It’s for the IAAF and South African federation to sort that out. I don’t think she should have been put in that position at all.”
The runner has received firm backing from members of her family, the SAAF and fellow athletes who have all offered messages of support during the turmoil. The situation needs to be diffused sooner rather than later with the matter preferably be dealt with away from prying eyes of the media.