Gender confusion: Not just for Semenya

Kieran Beckles
By Kieran Beckles
SemenyaThe indiscretion shown by the IAAF in the handling of the case has been appalling


“Semenya is a hermaphrodite. She has male sex organs and no womb or ovaries.”

These were the claims of the Sydney Daily Telegraph last Friday. A source closely involved in the gender testing of the South African athlete, leaked the results to the paper.

The source revealed that the results of the IAAF examinations showed that Semenya has internal testes, which produce testosterone. This has resulted in her testosterone levels being three times the normal amount in a female.

These latest revelations have once again undermined the talented athlete’s achievements.

The indiscretion  shown by the IAAF in the handling of the case has been appalling. They have shown no deference for the feelings of the 18-year-old.

The South African sports minister Rev Makhenkesi Stofile, promptly issued a battle cry following the breaking news emerging from Australia. He proclaimed that if the IAAF tried to ban the 800m World champion from future competitions, it would kick-start ‘World War Three’.

Since the extraordinary claims, Caster Semenya has gone into hiding. A spokeswoman for athletics in South Africa confirmed that the gold medallist would not be competing in the forseeable future.

The spokeswoman added: “She is receiving trauma counselling. Every day she meets with psychologists who are trying to help her through what is happening around her. We are concerned for her wellbeing.”

The declarations by the Sydney paper have yet to be confirmed by any IAAF official and remain solely as claims. The ASA were unaware of any results discovered from the gender testing and have been quick to castigate the handling of the case by the IAAF, demanding an apology for the humiliated runner.

The allegations have only intensified the already glaring spotlight on the traumatised teenager. The IAAF are suffering from a clear case of myopia.

It all strikes me as a bit ironic. Semenya may or may not have unnatural amounts of testosterone in her body. She could well be a hermaphrodite. Nevertheless, no official outcome has emerged from the investigations into her gender. So who are we to judge?

A number of athletes spring to mind whose gender could be confused. Not only on the basis of physical appearance, but also in their aggressive attitude employed while participating in sport.

The Williams sisters have dominated woman’s tennis for almost a decade now. Venus and Serena are fantastic athletes who keep their bodies in prime shape.

Venus possesses the record of the fastest serve posted by a woman in all four Grand Slams (125mph at the Australian Open, 128mph at the French, 129mph at Wimbledon and 129mph at the US Open). Many of the men on the ATP tour would struggle to post speeds of such velocity.

Meanwhile her sister blasts winners past opponents at a hypersonic pace. Serena’s determination and aggressive will has helped her claim an impressive 23 Grand Slam titles from both singles and doubles.

Her intimidating physique boasting muscular arms and powerfully-built legs, allow her to bully opponents around the court. But her zealous style of play and her physique haven’t seen questions raised over her gender.

Even within the world of athletics there are plenty of example of female athletes who bear physical traits not too dissimilar to Caster Semenya.

In the pursuit of glory, female athletes sacrifice curvaceous bodies that are deemed desirable for women by the mass media in today’s society. Instead they opt for streamlined bodies, with lean muscles that enable them to compete at the highest levels.

Listening to one podcast recently, one analyst made a valid point, if not a bit sexist. None of the finalists in the 800m at the World Championships in Berlin would be confused with the ‘Girls from the Playboy mansion’.

An extreme view maybe but it highlights the harsh treatment of Semenya. The other athletes seem to escape probing questions about their gender.

It is the dieting requirements and intense training sessions that these female athletes endure that inevitably leads to muscular bodies which display impressive abs and trimmed figures.

The Caster Semenya case will rumble on until the results of the gender tests are officially revealed and the IAAF takes appropriate action.

The suggestion of the ITF investigating the Williams sisters’ gender is beyond the realms of reality. This is unfortunately not the case for Semenya.

For now the South African heroine will remain in hiding away from the intrusive media and the soul searching questions. It is a shame that a tremendous talent feels unable to hold her head high after her marvellous performance in Berlin and her spirit is being chafed.

Hopefully this will be the nadir in a long and successful career for the athlete.

The gender debate continues.

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