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Semenya on track for possible return?

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Gordon Farquhar | 10:39 UK time, Thursday, 13 May 2010

World 800m champion Caster Semenya has been undergoing hormone-based treatment for what is widely accepted now to be an inter-sex condition and could return to competition at some point this year, sources have told me.

Getting to the facts about what the 19-year-old South African runner has been going through has proved to be extremely difficult.

Quite rightly, patient confidentiality has been paramount in her case after the sex-test revelations surrounding the World Championships in Berlin last year.

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In a perfect world, her medical condition would never have been brought into the public domain. She would have been spared the media spotlight and allowed to make decisions about her life and future in private after receiving the best possible impartial advice.

The trouble is the world that Semenya has been revolving in has been anything but perfect, with fault at some level on all sides.

Plotting the way forward, away from the hype and hysteria, is the challenge for those advising her now. What course that takes is going to depend entirely on the success or otherwise of the current treatment regime.

I understand it is being monitored by an independent group of experts, whose composition has been agreed by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) and the athlete's advisors.

There is a widely held belief that the IAAF is waiting for "test results" before making a decision. That does not seem likely to me.

Firstly, this is an ongoing treatment process not a snapshot in time and the IAAF will have been kept informed as to progress.

More significantly, IAAF officials will not want to create another media circus around a "big announcement" regarding Semenya.

The handling of her case has not been their finest hour and they would run the risk of looking evasive if they refused to answer questions that impinged on medical confidentiality.

They would be on a hiding to nothing. Clearly, they remain responsible for ensuring the integrity of their competitions and that will not be compromised.

If the advice comes to them from the independent group that treatment has not successfully overcome concerns about Semenya competing against other women, then they will have to take a robust line.

If the news is more positive, then expect the teenage middle distance runner to simply start appearing again - I understand some kind of resolution either way is weeks rather than months away, so it is possible she could even turn out for South Africa at the World Junior Championships in Canada in July.

Semenya has not been included in the squad for now, but I gather that could be changed fairly easily.

If she does run in Canada, what can we expect?

Latest reports of her training times over 800m are in the range of one minute, 59 seconds to two minutes. Respectably quick, but a fair way off the 1:55.45 in Berlin that devastated the field and catapulted her to fame and infamy.

Gordon will be discussing the Semenya controversy on 5 live's Track and Field programme on Thursday from 1930 BST.


  • Comment number 1.

    If she is female in all regards, I'd have expected a fairly quick resolution to all of this, maybe even within a month or so.
    The amount of time, mistruths, evasion and mystery surrounding the entire fiasco makes me (and I'm sure many others) wonder exactly what has been going on.
    Even if she is cleared 100%, the whole circus has tainted her reputation almost as much as it has taited the reputations of the IAAF and the sport as a whole.
    Are we really expected to belive that gender tests take nearly a year to resolve, or for that matter (unrelated point), drugs bans should only be two years?
    When will those in charge finally wake up and realise that their bickering and dithering make an absolute mockery of what was once regarded as the most honest of sports?

  • Comment number 2.

    You do have to wonder if it will ever be possible for her to compete again. The media hype will ensure any race she participates in will attract the wrong sort of interest and any victories she gets people will always be questioning whether the "treatments" have been sufficiently effective.

    The IAAF have to make sure that an athlete is never treated like this again. I agree with the author that integrity is important and catching cheats is sadly an imperative but no-one deserves to be put through what Semenya has been through.

  • Comment number 3.

    The interesting question is that if treatment can make her "female enough" in the eyes of the IAAF to compete, then is there any legal basis for banning females from using similar opposing treatments to push them towards the same gender boundary if it would improve their potential performance? Or indeed men doing the same.

    Oh and fredawlen, you would have to go a long long way back to find a time where athletics was clean and honest. Certainly there are pre-WWI stories of chemical injections and even older ones of athletes drinking animal blood (thinking they would inherit the animal's properties) in an attempt to gain an advantage over rivals. Unfortunately doing whatever it takes to win is a part of human nature for many and we will never eliminate it without also eliminating the need and enjoyment of the competition that drives sport in the first place.

  • Comment number 4.

    Fair point hackerjack, I doubt if any sport has ever really been 'clean'.
    I still believe that if those in charge (of any sport) didn't constantly look out for their own wellbeing and actually took their heads out of the sand once in a while, they might notice that the vast majority of people can spot the blatantly obvious; longer bans for cheats, a need for quicker decision making; even if they can't.

  • Comment number 5.

    In a day of equality men & women & any human in between should compete together. I wonder how many medals women would get ?

  • Comment number 6.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 7.

    Caster Semanya has been treated horribly by all sides, and the continued media attention only prolongs the invasion of her privacy. That said, this story is, unfortunately for her, both newsworthy in the world of sports and valuable as a case study on gender norms. I appreciate the BBC's continuing attempts to be sensitive to the athlete and the person as it balances privacy and public interest.

    My request: please try not to reinforce the view that her sexuality is a medical defect which requires treatment. I am referring to the way in which you used the words "intersex condition" and "medical condition" and also to a news report by another reporter on the television news program. On my side of the Atlantic, we have fire-breathing traditionalists who still see homosexuality as a similar kind of medical defect. We don't like them.

    I understand that this is how the various sporting federations see intersexuality, and perhaps most readers share this position. But I ask that you report on that view without subscribing to it. Let's not look to the IAAF, with its checkered past and its interest in maintaining the credibility of its existing system, as our guide on how to approach complex gender issues.

    Thank you.

  • Comment number 8.

    A bizzare view there Tom Hill.
    Physically, there is a massive difference between men and women and whilst any decent female international could beat an average man at just about any sport, the strongest/fastest woman will still be 10+% behind the best men.
    That said, I don't see why events like shooting or archery should differentiate between the sexes.

  • Comment number 9.

    My understanding is that most legal jurisdictions only recognise two sexes - male or female. It is therefore incumbent on the IAAF to decide which of these describes Semanya. If they fail to do so Semanya should sue them for restraint of trade. If they insist on medical treatment Semanya should sue them for restraint of trade and conspiracy to assault. If they insist she is male Semanya should sue them in order that an independent court can take an informed decision (and award her huge damages for restraint of trade if they find against the IAAF). The IAAF will only learn to behave when they are (heavily) penalised for their behaviour.

  • Comment number 10.

    "My request: please try not to reinforce the view that her sexuality is a medical defect which requires treatment. I am referring to the way in which you used the words "intersex condition" and "medical condition" and also to a news report by another reporter on the television news program."
    But if appearing medically female is a prerequisite to compete as a woman in female events, and the only way to make a person medically female is to give them medical treatment, then it is indeed a medical defect which requires treatment specifically under these circumstances. The only way she will be allowed to compete again as a female is if she undergoes medical treatment.

    You can argue that it is unfair for the IAAF to take this view, but there are plenty of things which need to be "fixed" before a person is allowed to compete. For example, there might be a dispute about a person's nationality, and until they meet prescribed criteria (for example, prove their parentage in a number of sports), they would not be allowed to compete. Is being unable to prove definitively that you are of English parentage a defect? No. But will it stop you competing under an English team? Yes.

    Is being unable to prove definitively that you are female a defect? No. But will it stop you competing in female events? Yes.

    So if you want the right to compete back, you will need medical treatment; if you do not have medical treatment, your career is over. Semenya could theoretically agree to compete as a male, most likely, but the first page of required qualifying times for a national team I found states that as a male athlete, her times are not sufficient to qualify (it happened to be the Welsh Commonwealth Games team, requiring a time of 1:48). Therefore, for the purposes of athletics, her hormones (or hormone sensitivity, if she has AIS) are such that she does indeed have a "defect which requires treatment". I think it is horrible that intersexuality should be viewed as a defect in artificial situations such as whether you're allowed to line up with a group of women on a bit of tarmac to try and get to a white line faster than the others (certain parts of intersex conditions are unquestionably a defect: for example, in those cases where non-functional, internal testes become cancerous. There is no other way to view the fact that your gender status could kill you), but here, because it does affect her eligibility to compete, you do have to concede that it is a problem, whether or not you want it to be. The BBC would be naive to present it any other way.

  • Comment number 11.


    Are you a lawyer by any chance because your grasp on the situation is incredible! I wish you were aroundto comment on everything that goes on the BBC, we'd all be so much clearer.

    How very dare the IAAF only have two sex categories in athletics, what absolute rotters they are! I can't believe they have the audacity to classify athletes and then ensure those classifications aren't being broken.... I just can't believe it. Sue the IAAF as the quite clearly have no diea what they are talking about!!

    You should be able to compete in whatever category you FEEL like!!


  • Comment number 12.

    Oh dear flyinghurdler - reading's not your strong point is it? I was quite specific that an independent court should award damages if they find in her favour. That is what courts are for. If they find that the IAAF have correctly classified her then no damages would be awarded. Of course this is now moot since she has been cleared to compete - but she should still sue the muppets (to use your favourite word) for depriving her of her living for the last 9 months.

  • Comment number 13.

    Timely announcement to undermine South Africa.

  • Comment number 14.

    In a 'perfect world' she wouldn't have a medical condition.

  • Comment number 15.

    Why has it taken an International federation 2 years to find out whether someone is female or not, its ridiculous that her career has been ruined for 2 years because we do not know her gender.

  • Comment number 16.

    What a ridiculous title, I didn't even bother reading the article.

    If she has a medical condition that gives her an unfair advantage, namely taking on the physical characteristics of a Male, then how on Earth is it "ideal" that it wasn't brought to light? It had to be, and if this test confirms the suspicions of many and action follows to keep female athletics fair, then fantastic!

  • Comment number 17.

    I feel so sorry for this young lady,the way she has been treated is terrible.She is a wonderful and very talented athlete.She has gone through in recent months in the public domain things no one should be subject to, she is a human being,she has feelings and emotions like everyone else but these have been largely ignored, (and has made international athletics to look heartless and totally uncaring), yet in the way that this has been dealt with those have been almost completely ignored. I do hope she wins and is able to continue her athletic career,the trouble is she has been tarnished by this quite disgusting affair.She's a winner,a fine athlete and has behaved superbly throughout.She should receive an unconditional apology from her national athletic body as well as world athletics. This should never be allowed to happen again to anyone anywhere.Semenya you will be welcome and greeted by those who respect you as a person and a top class athlete.

  • Comment number 18.

    In simple terms, Semenya is either a Female or Male. If a medical condition or genetic condition Semenya has means its far from a level playing field due to testosterone levels, I dont think Semenya should be able to compete.

    If a female's body should only contain certain small levels of testosterone, would it be fair to level the field and let her opponents inject it? No.

  • Comment number 19.

    So there was due to be a press conference at 2pm today to make an announcement. This would hopefully allow her to move on either
    A) to compete as a woman
    b) to get treatment for her medical condition and compete as a women
    c) compete as a man or withdraw from athletics

    Point B is already in process I think so really it would enable her to compete a woman or not. Either way she could at least move on. Of course it would bring the glare of publicity back on her but at least she could move on..... except that at 11:40 the press conference is cancelled !! So now the worst of all worlds. She has the glare of publicity back on her but is still in the limbo she has been in for the last 10 months. What is going on? I can't imagine that you call a press conference and then decide 2.5 hours before that you don't have anything to say. I suspect the most likely outcome is that somebody has instigated or threatened to instigate legal proceedings and this has forced the press conference to be called off whilst the situation is considered.

    Again in the middle of all of this sits Caster Semenya who has a problem that is not or her making and is having a very personal issue debated in a very public way. I just feel very sorry for her. Yes the right decision must be taken for all athletes who will compete against her but please lets get a decision so she can get on with her life.

  • Comment number 20.

    Actually, SE3Addick, it's not that simple as Semenya appears to be intersex.

    What is simple though, is that if Semenya is not specifically (and only) female then she should should not be able to compete against specifically (and only) other females - as that would be unfair.

    Of course, this is very hard on Semenya; but unfortunately there is no getting away from it.

  • Comment number 21.

    On the one hand, I feel sorry for her, but on the other, if she was competing in women's events *knowing* her inter-sex condition gave her an unfair advantage, then she's a cheat. Or her athletics federation, if it knew, and allowed her to carry on racing in those events, is dishonest. That also needs to be addressed.

    And while it's uncomfortable for her to have all this debated in public, it's necessary. She might be given the OK to continue competing in the women's events, but if the other athletes are not convinced that this has been dealt with properly, they'll just refuse to race against her.

  • Comment number 22.

    Why is this so complicated? If she has an XX chromosome make-up, she is genetically female; if it's XY she's genetically male. This must be the criteria used, as any other criteria would be open to abuse by mediocre male athletes having sex-change ops to compete as winning females.

  • Comment number 23.

    In a perfect world, her medical condition would never have been brought into the public domain



    She's pretty obviously very very close to being a bloke. Running in a woman's race is therefore going to catch the eye.

    Even in a perfect world.

  • Comment number 24.

    She's really looking like a man, and i really think she's, or he's.
    You can see her by photos, but who knows, this is crazy world, uh?

  • Comment number 25.

    In a perfect world a man wouldn't be allowed to race against women.

  • Comment number 26.

    I think it is perfectly right that her condition has been examined by doctors and the IAAF board. If she is not a female or whatever then it is necessary for a ruling to be made.
    For it to be done so publicly though is plain wrong. At th end of the day she is a very young lady and no one deserves the obvious pain and humiliation she will have gone through.

  • Comment number 27.

    Good post, Gordon. I thank you. Keep up the good work.

    Btw, how do you say "Farquhar"? Do you say, "Farker"?

  • Comment number 28.

    Is it really the IAAF's fault? I think not. If I remember the IAAF asked the South African Athletics not to enter her in the world championships as suspicions had already been raised,and tests begun. If SA athletics had said yes to the request, none of us would have heard of her, and this testing could have been done in private. It is the SA athletics, presumably with the approval of the athlete, who decided to put her in knowing this might/could happen.

    They couldn't wait, and so have brought this about.

    This is devastating for the athlete, and she has all my sympathy, but had her federation and advisors been more cautious and patient, we wouldn't be here now.


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