Monday, September 7, 2009

Update on Semenya

The case of of Caster Semenya and the insensitivity of the IAAF was discussed in this post. Now Semenya has been "made over" by a South African magazine and is a "cover girl". This would seem to only exacerbate the problems first raised by her case.


Amy said...

I hope getting a make over made her feel good.

Mike Austin said...

Do you?

Char Weaving said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Char Weaving said...

**Latest on Semenya--story remains so perplexing and continues to emphasize the deeply entrenched inequality surrounding sport and specifically track and field.**
"Whether she’s male or female, intersex or – according to the latest reports – a hermaphrodite, one thing should be clear to South African sprinter Caster Semenya: Privacy is no match for ignorance, bumbling officials and the burning desire to know. Two newspapers reported yesterday that the 18-year-old world champion runner is a hermaphrodite with no ovaries or womb, citing sources close to the International Association of Athletics Federations, track’s governing body. Both The Times of London and the Sydney Daily Telegraph said their sources had leaked the highly anticipated results from tests carried out on The Times reported that the sprinter may have internal testes, or male sexual organs, which produce testosterone and can generate muscle mass, body hair and a deep voice. The IAAF refused to comment on the claim last night, but earlier in the day its general secretary, Pierre Weiss, said: “It’s clear that she is a woman, but maybe not 100 per cent.” Leonard Chuene, the president of Athletics South Africa, which has been vocal in its criticism of the IAAF, dismissed the reports.
“We cannot get involved in gossip of this sort. Our people will speak to Caster and ensure that she puts these rumours from her mind.” From its outset three weeks ago, the Semenya case has been mired in controversy. The African National Congress Youth League has accused the IAAF of racism. Last week, a top South African athletics coach, Wilfred Daniels, resigned after accusing the country’s athletics chiefs of duping Ms. Semenya into taking secret tests. And then there has been Ms. Semenya herself, wearing a brave face despite the fact that her deep voice, muscular build and facial features have become headline fodder across the globe.
“God made me the way I am and I accept myself,” she told You, South Africa’s bestselling English magazine. “I am who I am, and I’m proud of myself. I don’t want to talk about the tests. I’m not even thinking about them.” Her case has dismayed bioethicists and human-rights activists who say cases like this could be avoided, if only the IAAF and other sports governing bodies had a clear-cut definition of who can compete and who can’t. “Having your sex called into question is a deeply humiliating and stigmatizing event,” said Alice Dreger, professor of clinical medical humanities and bioethics in the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University. “If athletes knew in advance what those rules were going to be, then that could all be settled out of the public eye. And they could know whether they could pass the rules for competition.” In an Aug. 22 essay in The New York Times, Dr. Dreger accused the track organization of relying on unstated, shifting standards for sex verification. But she also highlighted the fact that biology is a lot more complicated than checking a person’s genitals, or even seeing if a person has XX, or XY chromosomes. Even hormones can’t give you a clear-cut answer: When it comes to sex, there are too many shades of grey.
“So where do we draw the line between men and women in athletics? I don’t know,” she wrote. “The fact is, sex is messy. ... Sex is so messy that in the end, these doctors are not going to be able to run a test that will answer the question. Science can and will inform their decision, but they are going to have to decide which of the dozens of characteristics matter to them.” The Semenya case certainly has precedent. In 2006, Santhi Soundarajan, an Indian 800-metre sprinter was stripped of her silver medal at the Asian Games after “failing” a sex test. She was later found to have androgen insensitivity syndrome, where a person has internal testes, but has a feminine appearance and female sex organs. She reportedly attempted suicide."

David said...

I don't think science can sort this out for us, not entirely. To defer to science is to forget the ways that science has been shaped by culture, just as Semenya has been shaped by culture. She has been raised as a woman, and as far as she and her family have known, she is a woman. If she wants to race as a woman, I say let her. Unfair advantage? Only as much as Michael Phelps has an unfair advantage against me in the swimming pool. I'm a fast swimmer, but I can't compete against someone built the way he is. And I don't mind that at all. I'd swim against him any day, and I'd love to watch the video later to see just how much faster he was than I was.

My fear is that "science" and popular opinion will treat her as an ugly duckling; I'd like it if we could figure out a way to treat her as a swan, to see her physiology as a gift and not as a monstrosity. The fact is, she's human, and she's an amazing runner. The bottom line is not whether she has an unfair advantage; the bottom line is how we're going to make it possible for Semenya and others like her to have that Eric Liddell experience: "God made me fast, and when I run, I feel his pleasure." When she runs, I feel it; I hate all that we've done so far to make it harder for Semenya to feel it.

David O'Hara
Augustana College