Edward Griffiths mourns the loss of common sense.

2009-08-22 00:00

THERE is always plenty of nonsense in the wide, weird world of sport, but not much can match the IAAF press conference at the athletics World Championships on Wednesday night.

Pierre Weiss, secretary-general of the world governing body, a moustachioed, indisputably male Frenchman who is married with three children, appeared before the media and declared: “In case you did not know, I did not win the race (women’s 800m) tonight. I am just replacing the winner. You ask me why?

He continued: “There is doubt about whether this person is a lady, is a wo-man. A double investigation is being conducted, in South Africa where she lives and in Berlin. I am not a doctor, I am not a specialist of genetics, but all the doctors we contacted and consulted have told us very clearly that, with this kind of investigation, it can take days or even weeks before we can come to a conclusion.”

No word of a lie.

In August 2009, amid untold intellect and technology, the world is asked to believe it will take “days or even weeks” for officials to determine whether an athlete is a man or a woman. How has the human race become so pathetically prissy and politically correct, so farcically distracted by XX and XY chromosomes and tests revealing testosterone levels? A man is a man. A woman is a woman. What takes so long?

Caster Semenya is a woman.

Yes, it’s true she has suddenly emerged as a world-class athlete, dramatically improving her 800m time from 2:04.23 in the Commonwealth Youth Games last year to 1:56.72 when she won the event at the African Junior Championships in Mauritius on July 31, and now to a remarkable 1:55.45 in Berlin on Wednesday night when the 18-year-old from near Polokwane won gold at the World Championships.

And yes, it is true she is so well-built, she wears her hair so short and she speaks with such a low voice that the lyrics of Lola, The Kinks’ 1970 classic, do spring to mind: “Well, I’m not dumb but I can’t understand/ Why she walked like a woman and talked like a man/ Oh my Lola, la-la-la-la Lola, la-la-la-la Lola.”

And yes, yes, maybe some doubt could have arisen if her trainer had happened to be Danny Cipriani, the young England rugby player who recently believed he was courting a glamorous model only to discover, much too late, that he had slept with an individual formerly known as Darren Pratt (prompting headlines about Danny and his tranny); however, pending a double investigation which could take “days or even weeks”, this column can confirm that, in fact, Cipriani is not working as Semenya’s personal trainer.

All this nonsense is or might have been true, but the IAAF could surely so easily have saved themselves so much time and money, not to mention worldwide mockery, and avoided any further humiliation and embarrassment for a young athlete who simply wants to run, if they had... well, if they had simply looked.

Is it not the case that every human being in the long history of mankind has been able to tell the difference between a man and a woman? It has never been too complicated. Oh yes it is, say the experts. Oh no it isn’t, says everybody else; and before anyone starts to squeal about invasion of privacy, it should be noted that every elite athlete is regularly “inspected” by various medical doctors and doping officials.

Just one look would have sufficed.

Just one look sufficed for her mother, Dorcus. “I know who and what my child is,” she said this week. “If you go to my home village and ask anyone, they will tell you Mokgadi is a girl.”

Just one look sufficed for the teachers of rival schools at provincial athletics meetings who insisted on “taking Semenya to the toilets” to be sure she had entered the correct event.

Moloko Rapetsoa, athletics organiser and headmaster of the Bakwena Secondary School she attended, recalls: “It happened a few times and every time they all returned, she would be cleared and the competition would resume.”

In sport, once again, common sense has fled.

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