Sports & Lifestyle

Is Olympic gold medalist Semenya man or woman?

The South African government on Friday threw its weight behind Olympic 800 metres champion Caster Semenya ahead of next week’s landmark hearing against proposed rules that aim to restrict testosterone levels in female runners.

But the big question is: Is Semenya, 28, a man or a woman?

Well Semenya was born in Ga-Masehlong, a village in South Africa near Polokwane (previously called Pietersburg), called Ga-Semenya and grew up in the village of Fairlie, deep in South Africa’s northern Limpopo province. She has three sisters and a brother. Semenya attended Nthema Secondary School and the University of North West as a sports science student.

Wikipedia writes extensively about her, but didn’t confirm categorically if she was born a male or a female. It is also not categorically confirmed or denied if Semenya has ever done sex-switch surgery.

World track and field’s governing body IAAF has at different times questioned whether or not Semenya is male or female because of how much more powerful she is than your regular female athlete. IAAF wanted to know if she had “unfair advantage” on the race tracks.

The combination of her rapid athletic progression and her appearance culminated in the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) asking her to take a sex verification test to ascertain whether she was female. Till date, Semenya’s sex test result have not been officially published since 2009-2010 that her record breaking wins raised eyebrows. So the world does not know if she is fully female or quasi-male, at least not until she is forced to publish her sex test result.

Now IAAF has proposed rules that would force so-called “hyperandrogenic” athletes or those with “differences of sexual development” (DSD) to lower their testosterone levels below a prescribed amount.

But Semenya, 800m Olympic champion in London and Rio and a three-time world champion, is challenging the legality of the rules in a case which will be heard at the Court of Arbitration (CAS) from Monday.

South Africa’s Sports Minister Tokozile Xasa described the rules as “discriminatory” as she launched a campaign in support of hyperandrogenic athletes.

“These regulations appear to be specifically targeting Caster Semenya,” she told a news conference.

“What’s at stake here is far more than the right to participate in a sport. Women’s bodies, their wellbeing, their ability to earn a livelihood, their very identity, their privacy and sense of safety and belonging in the world, are being questioned.

“This is a gross violation of internationally accepted standards of human rights law.”

The IAAF regulations, she said, could potentially deprive the world from seeing and experiencing the “natural superiority of future athletes” from Africa.

The regulations were due to have been instituted in November 2018 but have been put on ice pending next week’s hearings.

On Thursday, Semenya, 28, said she was “unquestionably a woman”.

In a statement, her lawyers said Semenya “is a heroine and an inspiration to many around the world. She asks that she be respected and treated as any other athlete.”

“Her genetic gift should be celebrated, not discriminated against”.

As well as Semenya, the silver and bronze medallists in the 800m at the Rio Olympics, Francine Niyonsaba of Burundi and Kenya’s Margaret Wambui, have also faced questions about their testosterone levels.

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