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South African fury at sex test for track star

August 20, 2009

Eighteen-year-old Mokgadi ‘Caster’ Semenya is being celebrated as a national hero in South Africa after winning the 800 metres at the World Athletics Championships, but the decision by international athletics officials to order a gender verification test has stirred deep anger – and brought accusations of prejudice against the country and the continent.

Many in South Africa feel a victory by their talented young athlete is being tarnished by bad losers and a world all too  ready to mock. Sensitivities to prejudice are never far from the surface in the country where apartheid white minority rule ended just 15 years ago.

South Africans point out that headlines such as “Is she really a HE?”, in Britain’s Daily Mail, and the question of gender verification only surfaced when Semenya started to do much better than her peers.

“It shows that these imperialist countries can’t afford to accept the talent that Africa as a continent has,” the South African Football Players Union said in a message of congratulation to Semenya.

Politicians stepped in too.

“The ANC YL condemns with contempt those who are questioning her gender,” said the ever vocal Youth League of the Ruling African National Congress.

Some even drew parallels between Semenya and an unpleasant episode from the colonial era – Sarah Baartman, a South African woman, was taken from her rural homeland in 1810 and paraded to the world as a freak because of her unusual physical features. Her remains were finally brought back to South Africa in 2002 and laid to rest.

Whatever the results of the officials’ tests on Semenya – and the scientific procedures could take months – most South Africans are convinced that she is not a cheat but a great athlete who will return to a huge welcome.


Where a sport lays out a physical attribute – like weight, gender, etc. – in order to qualify for competition in a particular class, it does not seem unreasonable that a participant should need to pass objective tests sufficient to verify they meet the requirement.This runs amuck in that the testing is not being applied as a consistent policy and that a single participant has been singled out for testing whereas other participants had only to pass subjective outward appearance tests in order to compete.Therefor, I feel that this constitutes discrimination, and retroactive at that. Until such time as a gender test is applied consistently to all contestants going forward its difficult to see it as anything but. Presumably, all contestants need to submit blood samples for anit-doping testing already and I would presume that gender testing could be accomplished from the same sample at little or no additional burden. OR, maybe they should just drop the whole matter.

Posted by Ted | Report as abusive

External morphology can be surgically modified, and may not be standard for individuals with certain conditions like kleinfelter’s. genetic testing is required, and beleive it or not even that can be inconclusive. Sex is not black and white. There exists a substantial grey area.

Posted by Ian McNish | Report as abusive

Please, lets not let politics and any other BS get in the way of a great athlete.


Sabastion – I was, of course, attempting to use sarcasm to point out how utterly trivial this entire discussion is. Political correctness is far from my point. It’s more along the lines of Darwinism. We have seperated the sexes to make competition fair. I got it. I know why we did it. I think we can all agree that this individual is not what the sporting world had in mind when this model was established. So, what happens when we bend the gender rules and our notions of gender based performance are challenged? We get this debate. Now it looks like we will have to better define what we mean by “female” and “male” when it comes to sport just as we have in every other instance. Some predetermined, arbitrary, average hormone balance will now be used to determine which race a person should be running. What happens if this person is too male to be female and not quite male enough to be male? Is there some other category we can create? If so, what prevents us from further segregating athletes into sub classes (Female A, B,…) based on demonstrated testosterone levels? I know it sounds rediculous, but we either establish a metric and disqualify those that fail to meet it, or we remove the controls entirely and let Darwin sort them out.

Posted by Dave | Report as abusive

Not to even delve into the issue of gender dysmorphia and what are the determining factors, my problem is that this is an 18 year old kid who deserves some semblance of privacy, and if the IOOC is going to issue a statement along the lines of a presumption of innocence, I think they would have gone a long way to have kept the testing secret until the results came back. It’s pretty awful to put a young person through that sort of public scrutiny and embarrassment.

Posted by Grant | Report as abusive

Further to Dave’s post (August 21st, 2009 3:36 pm GMT), why not just separate athletics into two classes:1) Everything goes (sex changes, steroids, male/female, EPO, whatever and et cetera…), and;2) Athletics as it is now, based on effort, training, technique, talent et cetera…, divided into natural capacity, gender, no performance enhancing drugs and all that (as it is now).I guess I’m saying perhaps some people want to use drugs to run faster or jump higher, and then at least it can be “let the best drugs win” in the system I just proposed (it will have a proper forum for its expression then), and that way all the other athletes that don’t use such substances don’t have to play / compete against (what they consider to be) cheats (which they are essentially if they break the rules of the sport(s) to win).As far as this girl goes, testing is fine I say. It wouldn’t matter if the person was white or black, testing at sports at that level is pretty much routine and if you’re an athlete it comes with the territory. That’s what I think anyway.

Posted by Dectra | Report as abusive

Testing isn’t the issue, it’s the timing of the testing that is the problem and that clearly shows prejudice. The fact that this accusation stems from Australia is of no surprise to Africans, this is the same despicable society that marketed doom and gloom about South Africa’s ability to host the world cup and then offered to be considered as the plan b. Really Aussies you need to stop your racist based attacks on Africans and Asians, you do your nation a great disservice.

Posted by Vapour | Report as abusive

I have no problem if they were concerned about testing for her sexual gender if they were suspicious. What I have a problem with is Are they blind? Did they not see her or him when they first signed up, registered or whatever? If there were any questions concerning her gender then why did they not test in the beginning before the race? Why wait until she wins to now all of a sudden question it? Looks like somebody is a sore loser! I love America, am proud to be a American, but stuff like this makes me sad and angry. It’s disgraceful and disrespectful to this person. If after the test is done and she is found to be a she everyone who questioned her needs to publicly stand up and apologize for their ignorance and waiting to test after she won!


THAT WAS A MAN. So all you who scream racism hoping that if they shout loud enough it will all go away; deal with it. They don’t pre-test because most of them lose anyway and it therefore saves them the expense. South Africa should have done the testing but it appears they are so desperate for medals they just let the poor person go on hoping no one would notice. Now Caster will have to live with the trauma of world wide exposure because of the greed of a few.

Posted by CJ | Report as abusive

Rain,I don’t know why you’d bring up homosexuality at all. You are now generalizing that all homosexuals sound like ninnies with high voices and have limp wrists. This article isn’t about a sexuality test, it’s about sex as in gender.I think that people today are just too sensitive. If I were a trackstar and I won a competition only to have my gender questioned, I’d just say “Bring out the doctors.”. Screw discrimination, racism, and everything else people are bringing up. When you enter into a competition and you sign a waiver, you are at the mercy of the officials watching over the event. If you have nothing to hide then just take the test. I’d take 50 if I they wanted me to, just to spite them and waste their money.

Posted by DK | Report as abusive

I haven’t read the entire blog, but it seems no one has mentioned that a similar situation played out in the 2006 Asian games: 6/12/18/sportsline/main2275607.shtmlI think the governing body should have been much more discreet in their approach, but this person must be tested.

Posted by Plasmodium | Report as abusive

I find this situation to be so contankerous unnecessarily. Every culture is different and that should be understood. One size fits all is not an adopted and acceptance gesture amongst all cultures. Everyone who is black does not want horse hair in their head and chemicals to lighten their skin to define their femininity and the likes of those who sit in the judgement seats. I remember Mutola who ran the same distance as this young girl, and she was call a man too until she put the horse hair in her head to define her feminine side. Also,remember the best black young women (Williams sisters)who has held a tennis racquet were also defined by whites as men too, even the dikest one Navaratolova made her comments about them?. You people need to just stop this sick and bias judgement. I hope they do not come up with a Bolt lightening being a girl too because of possessing unsurpassable qualities.

Posted by Cora | Report as abusive

Poor, poor athlete. Not! Get a grip people…racist to confirm gender when gender isn’t clearly known? Absurd. Sexist to doubt same? Rediculous. If a man or woman was wearing a police uniform, one would naturally assume that person was a cop. Yes? Not so. Think about it…. Even though “Caster’s” genetalia may be questionable, nobody I know would mistake Caster for a woman, as she/he has no (even remotely) physical attributes of one. How about we apply the same “how dare you” logic to say…airline travel (and pilots specifically). “How dare you be suspicious of me” (because I’m Middle-Eastern, want to learn how to take off in a airplane, but not how to land one) “You are a racist”! No Sale.

Posted by james | Report as abusive

realy this is great shame for those who propose this idea! still today we African can what ever evry white man can do! to insure this I can site a good example, OBAMA! again OBAMA!!!!! the same is true for SEMENYA of SOUTH AFRIQA!

Posted by teferi | Report as abusive

I think that the ones who crictizes over who’s a man or a women they are the ones who should have a “sex test”not her. It is wrong, they have low low self esteem for themselves and God made a man and a women. You heard the mother is that enough for you all. I hate when people jugde other people just by their sex then their color whats next come on!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Posted by jim | Report as abusive

I wholeheartedly concur with Denyutali Mgaya. Africa is incredibly rich in its diversity of cultures and landscapes and natural resources, but we are repeatedly led to believe that the whole continent is impoverished and in desperate need of our help. For heaven’s sake! Ever seen the slums and levels of poverty in the US? The 50,000 homeless who are known to sleep out on the streets of New York alone year round? The impoverished intelligence of people of all socioeconomic backgrounds who happen to eat some of the worst “food” (junk food) in the world?I believe that western countries with a vested interest in Africa’s natural resources started a campaign some years ago to discredit Africa and Africans, and the US has stepped up political interference in strategically located countries such as Somalia and Liberia. I believe that this is a prelude to moving in with armies to expropriate oil, etc., as was done in Iraq and as is happening in Afghanistan.I have lived in Africa and found it to be very rich in everything and not at all as our governments would have us believe. I have also lived in North America and found it to be unhealthy, gluttonous and very poor culturally. As Denyutali Mgaya says, westerners do feel comfortable when Africa fails in everything. But Africa has not failed in what is truly meaningful.We’re used to our western 18-year old girls looking like porn queens so maybe it is natural for us to look at a female body clearly built for speed as somehow more masculine. A lot of western countries’ best athletes / runners are black, are they not? We whites not very good at it, and they are. The investigation of Semenya looks like racism and sour grapes to me.As a couple of people have commented, just get a doctor to have Semenya drop her pants to have the case closed quickly. She shouldn’t have to endure this!

Posted by Ann | Report as abusive

Carol, “intersex” might be the PC term for a hermaphrodite, but it is a meaningless scientific term that has replaced a word that was well understood due to our knowledge of Greek mythology. Now that we and our children have virtually stopped reading and spend so much time instead on brain-numbing pursuits such as TV and video games, we have forgotten meaningfulness.hermaphrodite XV. — L. hermaphrod?tus — Gr. hermaphród?tos, orig. proper name of a son of Hermes and Aphrodite, who grew together with the nymph Salmacis while bathing in her fountain and so combined male and female characters.Now isn’t that more memorable than a word that sounds like an orgy?

Posted by Ann | Report as abusive

Whenever there is a doubt, they test. I think that the people crying racism, or privacy, are deluded as to how far a person or country would go to win. Sex-change surgery, along with hormone treatment is a drop in the bucket compared with the long term effects of many of the drug regimens athletes undergo. This is a routine test, and yes, you only typically test the winners, to save on cost. Since men are genetically bigger and stronger, it is the females that normally have to be tested to ensure they are really female.

Posted by James Perly | Report as abusive

It’s an unfortunate situation because I can understand all parties but the IAAF did a very bad job. It’s fair for other competitors to have doubts about her gender but it’s also unfair for Semenya to have to prove at this point her gender after having been allowed to compete in the first place. She didn’t bend any rule.My understanding is that she went through the same rules as everyone to get to this point. So if something is wrong, it has to be the rules and/or IAAF. And not Semenya.I personally believe that IAAF simply messed up. At least they should have been consistent with their own rules. They are the one who qualified her to compete and those are the same who want to test her gender again.I can also understand south african frustration because it looks like IAAF decided to stand by Semenya competitors rather than by standing by their own rules. I don’t think IAAF would have done the test had no one complained.

Posted by Ananda | Report as abusive

It’s pathetic how people are going on and on about racism , Nationalism, Anti-Africanism….etc.It’s really a simple matter, this runner looks very much like a man, period. Quit making up hidden reasons to publicize other agendas, this only only about one thing. The runner looks very much like a man , even among other masculine looking women.

Posted by flex | Report as abusive

Although Senmenya going through a a posteriori test a questionable, I think because we have using new metrics to assess her gender, all competitors should go through the same test, or at least all the potential winners.Let’s suppose that Semenya fails the test, how do we now know that the others would have not failed the same test?!

Posted by Ananda | Report as abusive

They should do like the old times: Run Naked

Posted by Grandsome | Report as abusive

Are you all seeing what I am seeing? I just discovered that the true nature of this human being, by analyzing her name: SEMENYA.It sounds like Se—Men—Ya, in other words, see Men, ya!This so-called woman just look like a woman to foul us, but in reality she is a man. Men is in this middle of her name. Even one of my friends told me that, “Because she is so ugly, she is looks like a man, otherwise she is a woman”.Anyway, let’s keep the debate open.

Posted by Morris | Report as abusive

People can say anything they like about gender, skin colour, culture or nationality.But the reality is that she should be, and is going to be tested. And nothing that anyone says will stop the test from happening.These tests are to ensure that the races are fair for everyone. If someone takes part in a race, they agree to be subjected to testing.If she has nothing to hide, she has nothing to fear from the test.If there are people who believe the test should not occur, perhaps it is because they fear the possible result?

Posted by Hmmm | Report as abusive

I agree with Ananda__the authoroties were terrible in their handling of the case but fact is__rules are there for everyone in competition at this level and how you were raised can never determine gender,,,,imagine a man boxing against female opponents,,,the rules are also there for the protection of ALL competitors.

Posted by Thom | Report as abusive

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Maybe the IAAF has to conduct these tests, but why now. This girl has always been competing at Junior level, why is there only talk now when she’s kicking the butts of the Europeans. This is just bulltish! South Africa and Africa at large must fight this or else history will judge us very harshly. Caster you rock! Waliklebhula irekhodi (Zulu for, you smashed the reckod!)


This thing lacks UBUNTU you don’t do that to a human being. The humiliation was not warranted. Even the IAAF has acknowledged that they mishandled this whole thing which then puts questions on the MOTIVE????


The fuss is unfounded.The only fair alternative to scrapping tests is for women to compete against men.That would condemn women to being non-paticipants.As a South African I must point out that the GENDER TEST carried out on fellow South African Zola Pietese (nee Bud) in 1984 produced no such fuss.The race card being played by politicians in South Africa is always used when other arguments are unsound.

Posted by brian odoherty | Report as abusive

She should be compensated by the international board of athletics, once its established Shes is a Women.

Posted by Eli Jyah - Ld Elon | Report as abusive

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