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Semenya saga comes to just conclusion

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BBC Sport blog editor | 18:06 UK time, Tuesday, 6 July 2010

Justice has been done in the Caster Semenya case with the announcement by the IAAF that the world 800m champion can resume her athletics career.

It is good news not only for her but also for all the parties involved in what has been a sorry, traumatic and divisive episode.

The importance of following process within a sports governing body, at international and national level, has been demonstrated.

And although it has been an uncomfortable experience for all concerned, it has also provided an opportunity to learn from mistakes.

Although it has never been confirmed - and quite correctly from the perspective of patient confidentiality - I am confident that Semenya has undergone treatment for some kind of inter-sex condition.

Confirmation that the panel of medical experts who have been monitoring her are now satisfied she can compete without an unfair advantage means the IAAF has secured its primary aim in this - to ensure fair competition.

Semenya's fellow athletes should now have faith that when they line up against her, the playing field will be level - a just outcome for those left trailing in her wake at last year's World Championships.

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The removal from office of those at Athletics South Africa, who knew there were concerns abouts the sex of Semenya last year but still put her into the team for Berlin, is another just outcome. They were guilty of exploiting her, just as the IAAF was guilty of failing to preserve confidentiality in her case.

The anger and indignation that poured from some in South Africa, including accusations of racism directed at the IAAF, have been exposed as little more than empty rhetoric and hollow nonsense.

It is right and just that the IAAF should have had to apologise, as it did, for allowing details of Semenya's sex tests to enter the public domain.

It is also just and right for Athletics South Africa to say sorry for the conduct of some of its senior figures, including former president Leonard Chuene.

A government investigation concluded he had lied about what was known about Semenya's case and that he owed the athlete, the country's president Jacob Zuma and all the people of South Africa an apology.

This has been a chastening experience for the IAAF but it can take credit at least for making sure that, after failing to follow protocol in the first place, it did not waver from it in its handling of the rest of the case.

I doubt it will let it happen again - and the re-shaped South African Athletics body has learned its lesson, too.

Semenya has only ever been a victim in this but at least, quite rightly, she has been allowed to keep the medal and the prize money she earned in good faith on the track in Berlin last year.

She may never win another race or she might go on to be a champion at the London Olympics. Whatever the outcome, she deserves our sympathy, while those who made mistakes owe it to her never to repeat them.


  • Comment number 1.

    It is very good that this has now been solved, although it took an unacceptably long. Good on the girl, but I am less optimistic than you that this is going to remove all doubt about her from her competitors. If she suddenly starts winning by huge margins again, the questions will come up.

    Unfortunately in the situation she is, confidentiality is a double-edged sword. Yes, it should be there for her personal privacy, but on the other hand it will be viewed by suspicion by those whom she will beat...

    Nevertheless, I for one am looking forward to seeing her compete again and I must admit I am very curious to find out what level she will be at, say next year (I presume this season she will not be doing particularly well given the uncertainties around her person).

  • Comment number 2.

    Good decision, I hope she comes back stronger

  • Comment number 3.

    She was born that way, and that gives her an advantage. Yeah, and that sums up all of the sporting champions. I'm 5' 7" and will never play basketball.

  • Comment number 4.

    Is it me or am I reading this wrong... but suggests that she is/has been treated for inter-sex condition... should this not suggest that she does have a an unfair advantage?

    "Although it has never been confirmed, and quite correctly from the perspective of patient confidentiality, I am confident that Semenya has undergone treatment for some kind of inter-sex condition."

  • Comment number 5.

    "I doubt it will let it happen again - and 'the re-shaped South African Athletics body' has learned its lesson, too"
    Rather an unfortunate turn of phrase under the circumstances, don't you think?

  • Comment number 6.

    There are a number of intersex conditions which could confer advantage, such as someone outwardly female who has internal testes... producing significant amounts of male hormone which helps in athletic performance. Perhaps levels of hormones should be monitored (like blood count and hormone levels are monitored in cycling) and an acceptable/fair limit set for top level competition.

  • Comment number 7.

    If she has indeed undergone treatment, then isn't that a tacit admission that Semenya had an unfair advantage at the World Championships. Shouldn't she then be asked to return her medal just like an athlete who has tested positive would. You don't say, "We ban you for doping, but you can keep the medal." Don't tell me it's not her fault because if it isn't, she should not have been treated in the first place. Can't have it both ways. In the interest of fairness, I really hope she has not undergone any treatment.

  • Comment number 8.

    If she's still gaining an advantage from essentially being a man, then she isn't the victim here.

  • Comment number 9.

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

  • Comment number 10.

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

  • Comment number 11.

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

  • Comment number 12.

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

  • Comment number 13.

    It's strange that you mention that she has received treatment of some sort. Can you prove this categorically or are you covering up by claiming confidentiality. If you can't prove this conclusively then I will have to label you as a charlatan with a double tongue. How can you say justice is served and then proclaim that she had treatment for "some condition that gave her advantage".

    You should report facts and list speculations as so.

    For the fact that she has been given permission then i will have to say that she and her family have been victimised and duly compensated for the physical and psychological trauma she has been made to go through.

    And I will have to agree with those who claim it that there is an element of racism attached to the handling of the whole matter. I can bet you if she were a white European she would not have been treated the way she was by IAAF and blogs like yours would not use ambiguous tone despite her exonoration.

  • Comment number 14.

    The fact that the IAAF spokesman said "Please note that the medical details of the case remain confidential" clearly implies that there was treatment. If there was no treatment there wouldn't be any medical details, she would simply be a female athlete that was cleared to run as a woman.

    The quickest way to end all the speculation would be an unambiguous statement that Caster never was intersex and that no treatment was required for her to be cleared to run. Instead, there is reference to confidential medical details.

    Personally, I'm very happy with the outcome. Caster can resume competition and any alleged advantage she previously had has been "treated" and we can all enjoy the racing without a cloud of suspicion hanging over her. Some might argue that she may retain some muscle mass promoted by the extra testosterone that her body was allegedly producing. But as long as her body is currently producing normal levels of testosterone, I think she should be allowed to compete.

    As for her being victimised, the fault for that lies with the South African athletics authorities for ignoring concerns raised by the IAAF and subsequently exposing her to this media storm.

    As for there being a racist motive, who would have gained the most from her being banned? A Kenyan, Janeth Jepkosgei, who would otherwise have successfully defended her title. In any case, the majority of athletes suspected of being intersex in the past have been white, with the exception of an Indian athlete, Santhi Soundarajan, who was stripped of her silver medal in the 2006 Asian games.

  • Comment number 15.

    I'm afraid she now has an unfair disadvantage if her nature has been altered.

  • Comment number 16.

    No offense but Floyd Landis lost his Tour de France title because of unacceptably high testosterone levels. Unless they've gone in and removed her testicles she will retain an unfair advantage when she runs against other women. I know it's not her fault but if she still has massively high testosterone levels when competing it will be unfair to all the otehr competitors. Very sad either way

  • Comment number 17.

    If SEmenya was US or British the case has never been in question. Its a shame for world Governing body the way it handled the case.

  • Comment number 18.

    I hope this lady comes back as strong as she was in the Worlds - it is amazing that we cannot accept the ruling and move on - what is up with some people.
    When Usain Bolt started running the 100m and giving everybody a 10m start (see the 100m Olympic Final) and still win the race by 50m and then slow donw over the line and win by miles - we did not have the same uproar, but it was as much, if not more, of a pro rata thrashing than Semenya's.
    Good luck to her - I hope she goes on to greater success.

  • Comment number 19.

    kras2001 - I can't agree with your comment, sorry. First of all I don't think this person would have been entered in the World C'Ships had she been British, because I'm fairly sure that questions would have been asked well in advance by the British Athletics authorities and checks carried out accordingly. It is a pity that the South Africans seemed more concerned about winning a gold medal, as opposed to the predictable storm which inevitably followed.
    I find it amazing that Gordon Farquhar writes that 'justice has been done'. Surely this ruling is a total 'injustice' to all other female athletes that compete in the 800m. Has he considerd this aspect of the case? The whole episode is still shrouded in mystery and I'm srprised that the British athletics correspondent can accept an explanation like this from the IAAF.

  • Comment number 20.

    It's such a shame that Athletics South Africa exposed her to all of this in the first place. If it were not for this then the whole situation could have been resolved in private and nobody would have been any the wiser.

    Event though she can now compete she is in a no win situation. If she runs poorly then everyone will say i told you so & her win in Berlin will come under more scrutiny. If she returns to the same level as before then people will still have suspicions about her.

  • Comment number 21.

    "Justice has been done" - so you're a medical expert and have all the facts in front of you do you to make this moral statement?

    You're in the same position as we are....we don't know and are underqualified. Even if we were qualified to make a medical assertion, there's still a big step to being able to make a claim to know the 'just' cause of action in such a case.

    I wish journalists would stop claiming to have some 'right' of judgement on such matters when they have no or little knowledge of the subject matter.

  • Comment number 22.

    When you're talking about meddling with nature or biology, whether it be through drug taking or medical procedures I'm not sure the outcome can ever be deemed fair.

    The view taken will be on a case by case basis. The outcome here suits all parties involved but will not go away.

    For example in Cricket with Murali's bowling action the rules were in effect re-written to allow his natural 'defect' what is to say the same has not happened here the data has not been published?

  • Comment number 23.

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

  • Comment number 24.

    I'm not sure whatever happended to the journalistic code, sources should be quoted, otherwise they're worthless. Maybe they just don't exist. Inferences should be backed up with evidence, otherwise are we to believe there was no investigation as part of this 'journalistic' piece?

    Oh hold on is this a blog??? Oh yeah, i see, so its just a diary of the hunches of someone with no connection to the case.....i forgot about this modern day get-out-clause the BBC seems to be employing accross the board now.

    The BBC blog worked fine for such journalistic elements as Ben Dirs and Tom Fordice travelling around France's Rugby World Cup 2007 because its a diary of their lives 'as fans' and their experiences of the cup. But now it seems to have taken over the core activities of BBC Sport.

    The only writer i've noted to be worthwhile in such a format is Matt Slater, as he sounds as if he's done some donkey work and sought out some information (evidence, know) to back up his viewpoint.

  • Comment number 25.

    Carl @21, having followed this case through Gordon's blogs, I feel he is one of the most qualified people outside the IAAF to have an opinion.

    Agreed, we don't know all the facts; however an application of logic leads us to conclude that Semenya did have an intersex condition, that meant she was excluded from female competition until now. The IAAF after months of monitoring have decided that she is free to compete. So what do you conclude has happened in the interim?

    All accept this case wasn't handled well in the early stages (and Olumide @13 this has nothing to do with racism).
    So is it a just conclusion? Semenya is now free to run as a woman, which she wanted, but the IAAF have satisfied themselves (and hopefully us) that it is a level playing field. I'd argue that it is.

    Nice blog, again.

  • Comment number 26.

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

  • Comment number 27.

    In order for Semenya to be able to compete as a woman she would need to not be able to produce above a certain amount of testosterone that is considered legal.

    Various tests 'exposed' to the public showed that she produced too much testosterone, what I consider this blog is inferring is the aspect which was producing too much testosterone has been 'negated'

    I stand corrected however this may seem the most likely reason for her inclusion in competition again.

  • Comment number 28.

    Doesn't really mater.

  • Comment number 29.

    lol @ number 5, i agree. what was worse was the use of "it" rather than he or she... OUCH!

  • Comment number 30.

    This whole thing has been a load of rubbish from start to finish.

    All elite athletes have something in their nature that gives them a physical advantage over the average man or woman, all this has ever seemed to be is some folk complaining because Semenya's advantage was better than theirs.

    Prolapse35 @ 16

    This is completely different to the Ladis case, it wasn't his amount testosterone that was found to be high, it was the ratio between testosterone and epitestosterone which is an indication of doping, something Ladis has admitted to.

  • Comment number 31.

    "Although it has never been confirmed - and quite correctly from the perspective of patient confidentiality - I am confident that Semenya has undergone treatment for some kind of inter-sex condition"
    Once again another flawed article. You don't have any evidence to back this. So in the future, always back up claims with hard evidence. Having said that, she was born a woman sadly with deficiencies. It is like a man born with six fingers as opposed to five. He is still a man regardless. I am happy this is all sorted know she can go back to competing

  • Comment number 32.

    Playing the race card in this situation is a convenient and lazy way to avoid tough questions.

    The IAAF seems keen to just sweep this under the rug; if Semenya is unequivocally female then they've missed the chance to declare that loud and clear.

    By keeping quiet and falling back on patient confidentiality they've failed to clear the air. People will either suspect that she is indeed genetically intersex, or that she's had medical treatment for that (in which case her previous achievements are still in doubt).

    I feel sorry for Semenya herself, stuck in this terrible position for something she may well have had no clue about at all.

  • Comment number 33.

    This issue is far from done and dusted, trust me.

    Most people involved in athletics have already made up their minds on this issue and it's wishful thinking on a grand scale for the IAAF to imagine that she will now be welcome back as a female and everything will be rosy.

  • Comment number 34.

    I'm afraid that whilst I'm happy to see Semenya back into competition, the fact that this was thrust upon her, the IAAF, and the ASA in the first place annoys me. The fact that the writer of this blog assumes that she may have had treatment, which if true really bothers me anyway. Caster Semenya, won the race fair and square in Berlin, and no one should have complained.

    It is a societal problem that you majority of people are blinkered to see only two genders, male and female. However the fact that around 40 inter gender conditions exist means that over 40 different genders exist, but as society only looks at two everyone is made to conform. Caster Semenya raced in the races she felt she conformed to and the ways she was brought up. It is societies fault that all this fuss has been made. I only hope she carries on winning her races and goes on to win gold at London, which would prove what a good athelete she is and put to bed all this nonsense that has gone on.

  • Comment number 35.

    You cannot take away the muscular development which went on before her treatment

  • Comment number 36.

    This will be a tough pill to swallow for the athletes that she has beaten so convincingly but from the limited knowledge I have about this case, it would seem that justice has been done.

    It would appear that she has some kind of condition that enhances her performance - whether through increased testosterone levels or something else I'm not sure. As has been pointed out above, many elite athletes have a natural advantage in their field over the average person. It is probably why they ended up doing what they do.

    Cycling fans may remember Miguel Indurain's dominance of the Tour de France in the mid 90s. Thought it might be interesting to copy a section of his wikipedia page here:

    "At the top of his career, Miguel Indurain had a physiology that was not only superior when compared to average people, but also when compared to his fellow athletes. His blood circulation had the ability to circulate 7 litres of oxygen around his body per minute,[1] compared to the average amount of 3-4 litres for an ordinary person and the 5-6 litres for his fellow riders. His cardiac output is 50 litres a minute; a fit amateur cyclist's is about 25 litres a minute. Also, Indurain's lung capacity was 8 litres, compared to an average of 6 litres. In addition, Indurain's resting pulse was as low as 29 BPM, compared to an average human's 60-72 bpm, which meant his heart would be less strained in the tough mountain stages.[2]"

    These are widely known facts about Big Mig (just mention it because I think its wise to mistrust most things on Wikipedia!).

    Point being, that his body gave him a massive advantage over his rivals at the time. This may seem unfair to Semenya's fellow athletes, but it is just the way of the world. Both ASA and the IAAF have disgraced themselves at times during this process, one imagines that this may have caused her great distress at times. I really can't see any alternatives to the decision reached and wish her all the best for the future.

  • Comment number 37.

    Cannot agree with leia 27 that a gold medal in London would "put to bed" anything.
    Indeed I don't see this IAAF ruling ending the controversy surrounding the unfortunate Semenya at all.

    OK , she is now free to compete. So one of thee things will happen: A: She takes up where she left off , destroying her opponents and continuing to raise doubts about the whole investigation. B : She continues to improve and takes the women's 800 record to ridiculous levels - I leave you to imagine the reaction...or C: She reverts to being a rather ordinary 800m runner and eventually disappears from the scene, which somewhat settles the matter but leaves a bad taste over her results before "treatment" and the handling of the case by officialdom.
    Now I have no personal animosity towards Semenya , but would hope that the third of these is what happens as either of the other two will simply ensure the controversy dogs her to the end of her career. And it will , whatever well-meaning people may hope.

    In other words , to put it bluntly , I think it will be best for everyone if she comes back, fails, and retires, keeping her gold medal and leaving women's middle distance to continue to be seen as a contest among equals.
    As I fear any other outcome will bring no closure and no satisfaction for any of the parties.

  • Comment number 38.

    Come on, have some respect for the woman. I can't believe how many of you are on here asking for the details of tests and any treatment to be released just so your amateur athletics interests and perverse desire for scandalous gossip can be quenched.

    The IAAF will have access to the best medical advice around and will have no doubt made their decisions accordingly. As far as we are all concerned as amateur onlookers....have some respect for Semenya as a young woman caught in the middle of a storm that is by no means her own doing. She has a right for the details not to be made public. Have a heart!

  • Comment number 39.

    @ Alfie #37, I do hope she comes back and wins gold on the basis that I think the treatment that she has recieved from the IAAF, ASA and the world media has been very unfair. If indeed Caster Semenya has a inter gender condition, and nothing has been clarified on this, why should she be discriminated against?

    She obviously wouldn't compete in a male atheletes race, as she'd end up last, so she's racing with women, and winning. Now that isn't just down to her condition, it's down to training and dedication. However, as I said before, due to societies need to having only binary genders, anything inbetween should just shut up, and not be seen by the world?

    I do concur with the author that lessons will have been learned by everyone on this topic by now, not least on the handling of the situation, and poor Caster Semenya has been the person to suffer, we should be hoping she comes back and wins to show the world she has talent. It isn't her fault if she has an inter gender condition it is something happened at birth, and so let's praise her rather than complain about her.

  • Comment number 40.

    There's some genuinely crass comments on here.

    "Don't tell me it's not her fault because if it isn't, she should not have been treated in the first place. Can't have it both ways." What's the logic behind that? How would having an inter-sex condition be someone's fault? And why should they not receive treatment for it?

    "You cannot take away the muscular development which went on before her treatment" No, you can't take it away, but without the testosterone levels she had previously, she won't be able to maintain it.

    "If she's still gaining an advantage from essentially being a man, then she isn't the victim here." But, she wouldn't be, if she's been treated for any condition she may have had. And, anyway, why does there have to be a 'victim' anyway?

    Would be good if people realised that this is a world apart from doping, at least on the part of the athlete herself. This wasn't a case of someone systematically cheating, but rather someone who was unaware of a medical condition.

  • Comment number 41.

    I ignore most of the comments on here. If you read carefully, they seem to suggest that she should have choosen to be born without this condition. It is how she was created (she did not create herself). In fact i would ask these people to forward such questions to God. He has all the answers

  • Comment number 42.

    If she ever has kids, say ten years from now, a lot of people will eat their words.

    It seems an adequate resolution of the whole thing. One thing's for sure - Caster is a far, far stronger person than I can ever hope to be.

  • Comment number 43.


    At last, this situation has came to a "conclusion" following many hours of turmoil...And, I am glad with the result of the investigations....


  • Comment number 44.

    There are some really stupid and crass comments on here, but it's hardly surprising as those comments are based on SPECULATION, as are some of those in the blog itself, how about waiting for a few facts before making allegations about someones gender?

    As for Caster herself, I just hope the last year or so hasn't been too stressful for her and she can come back and perform at her best without recrimination.
    This is not going to happen though, as the IAAF has made the case a pantomime that has left a smear against her name that many people will bring up at every opportunity, even though she is now competing at the same level as everyone else and in her own mind has only ever been at the same level.

  • Comment number 45.

    clearly not just

    certainly not the end

  • Comment number 46.

    Re: leia27. Whether two genders exist, or 40, or more, the point is that women's competitions are traditionally exclusive to members of a single gender. Athletes who are of some other gender might in principle have an advantage over women, as men seem to. However, the number of participants in this situation doesn't appear to be large enough to support competitions restricted to any other specific gender.
    But in the light of this, it becomes very difficult to defend the nature and status of women's sports in general. Should we, in effect, just consider female sportspeople to be suffering from a genetic disadvantage that impairs their performance? If so, is it discriminatory to give equal pay to sportswomen and not extend that to competitors with disabilities, in their various categories?

  • Comment number 47.

    It is clear that the handling of this case has been both negligent and has had a massive impact on Semanya's ability to earn a living. To the extent that the negligence has exacerbated her financial loss (either by unreasonably extending the resolution or by the emotional impact on Semanya) she should be compensated as would be the case in any other kind of loss due to negligence. I assume that such a case would be determined by the CAS if the IAAF and the South African authorities fail to provide appropriate compensation of their own volition. However, the CAS is not set up for such a case (I am not sure their has been anything similar). Does anyone know the process to be followed? I do recall the UK case in the 1990s where a case against the athletic authorities for mishandling of drugs allegations ended in the UK courts rather than the CAS - however the facts were different and I am not sure the relation between the CAS and the UK courts bears any resemblance to the situation in South Africa. Thankfully in this country the courts will tell these crony organisations like the CAS where to go if they feel it is necessary in order to assert jurisdiction.

  • Comment number 48.

    Heads should roll and more subtle and appropriate precedents should be set. Its embarrassing and harrowing in equal measures the way this farce was conducted within full face of the media. At the eye of the storm was a young women who must have taken an emotional and mental battering, for which certain people must apologise and pay.

  • Comment number 49.

    The South African authorities were at fault and by their actions caused a young girl undue stress.

    On a different subject Steve Redgrave launched a initiative to recruit Tall people for Olympic sports. It would be interesting to know how this initiative is progressing.

  • Comment number 50.

    Really i don't see any difference between her and some of the African Female footballers. I am sure because of her nature she had hung out with boys more tan the girls thus making her possess male mannerism. I have seen girls woh behave like girls but with equally husky voice.

  • Comment number 51.

    The suspicions and finger-pointing will never go away, 'tainted' will be the word thought but not voiced.


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