Let Caster be herself

2010-04-11 12:14

CASTER Semenya showed up to race in Stellenbosch last month and the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) wouldn’t let her run.

Let’s take a moment to appreciate the courage involved in her simple desire to compete. The 19-year-old world record-holding runner arrived to announce her return to competitive running even though she was on suicide watch last year. Even though she was the subject of many heartless attacks. Even though she was a bull’s eye for every bigot in and out of the sports world.

Semenya’s “crime” is that, like millions of others, she might be intersex. That is, she is suspected of having a common sex variation which in her case may include internal testes and/or a chromosomal variation.

Her incredibly fast times, the tenor of her voice and her musculature led to an antediluvian hysteria.

After complaints from losing competitors and sports bloggers, Semenya was subjected to gender testing involving a gynaecologist, an endocrinologist and a psychologist. Unverified results of her gender tests claiming that her body is gender-variant were leaked to the media.

Despite submitting Semenya to tests in the belief that the controversy would be quelled, the IAAF never brought the process to a conclusion or released ­official results. Perhaps they were ­hoping the level of humiliation would force Semenya to recede from public view and the issue would go away.

Instead, as Semenya said, she was withdrawing her “begrudging agreement” not to compete because the ordeal had “dragged on for far too long with no reasonable certainty as to their end”.

She also said: “Some of the occurrences leading up to and following the Berlin World Championships have infringed not only on my rights as an athlete but on my fundamental human rights, including my right to dignity and privacy.

“I am an athlete and it is vital for my competitiveness, my well-being and for my preparations for events during the European summer that I measure my performance against other athletes.”

Seven months after this young world-class athlete endured public torment, Semenya is back with an elegant defiance that matches her prowess on the track.

Semenya said that “after three formal attempts by my legal advisers to make contact with the IAAF on my behalf, the IAAF had still not responded.”

The body said Semenya was not guilty of any wrongdoing, that she could keep her gold medal, her prize money (which has now been paid) and her ranking as the number one female athlete in the world in the female 800m event.

But they still won’t let her race.

Let’s allow, for a moment, that the news of Semenya’s intersexuality is true. What is really at stake here, aside from the persecution of a young athlete? Lurking beneath the salacious coverage is the sports world’s underlying ethic – women are inferior to men.

The notion that there is an enormous physical gulf between men’s and women’s athletic abilities is rarely questioned. In pushing past the global media abuse, Semenya has proven that she is not simply a powerful runner but a fierce advocate for human rights. We should demand an end to these sexist gender tests.

We should also demand that Semenya be allowed to race. Let Caster run!

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