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Caster Semenya

If you don't know that name, Semenya is a South African track star and college student who was raised as a female and has always competed as such.

Between this year and last, she has beaten opponents by such wide margins on the international track scene that competitors began grumbling could not have been born a woman, because she is too muscular, runs like a man, and is just too dominant.

If true, that rumor "probably" would disqualify Semenya from international competition, and negate her prior victories.

After Semenya underwent forced gender testing a few weeks ago, imposed by the International Association of Athletics Federations, some of the results allegedly leaked a few days ago: Allegedly, Semenya has male and female organs, and no uterus. And because of the presence of internal male genitals, Semenya apparently has a testosterone level three times higher than the women she races against. Theoretically, the testosterone makes her stronger, thus faster. So she does have an advantage.

I guess doctors call her scenario "intersex" these days, rather than hermaphrodite, because the latter suggests an individual has two fully functional sets genitalia.

My snap judgment when I first heard about Semenya a month or so ago was that if it was found out the runner was a man, or at least not all woman, then she should be immediately disqualified 'cause international track and field competition has been tarnished enough over the years by cheaters.

But then I got Semenya's whole story: She didn't cheat. She may not be able to bear children, but for the absence of external male parts, she was raised as a girl, treated as a girl, told she was a girl, assumed by her parents to be all girl, because doctors at her birth likely made a visual judgment of her gender.

So, that makes Semenya.......?

She's a good runner. Should she be banned from female competiton, because she's not "all woman," as most of us laypeople define gender? Should she be compelled to compete with men, because she's not "all woman?" That wouldn't work though, 'cause she's not "all man" either. Should the women she races against be forced to run uphill, so to speak, 'cause of Semenya's testosterone advantage? Not like it's their fault her gender has been confused by the adults around her all her life.

One sports ethicist opined that given how she's been raised and her unique circumstances, and the fact that this ship has already sailed, the IAAF has no choice but to allow Semenya to continue competing as a woman.

I feel terrible for Semenya. And I genuinely have no strong opinion on how her competitive situation should be resolved.

What do you think?

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better to err on the side of caution and say no. the long term interests of the sport are probably more important than one person, even though the one person is affected in such a dramatic way. the situation is a little similar to the new suits they wear while swimming with so many world records smashed.


I sympathize greatly for her, but I do not feel she should be allowed to continue to compete in the female races. She should be allowed to compete against men. Please note that I keep calling her "she." This is because she sees herself as female and, I assume, wishes to be seen by others as female... I think she's gonna need a great deal of psychological counseling.

Chrystal K.

I feel so bad for her. I couldn't imagine having such intimate details of my life publicized in front of the whole world.

Tim Palmer

I think the following scenario would lead to a lot more fallout and controversy: What if all the female champions, in every sport--volleyball, basketball, track, etc.--were tested and it turns out most female world champions have much higher testosterone levels than the average female athlete? Assuming none of them "cheated" to have those levels, what would be the portent for the future of women’s competitive sports? At first the conclusions may not seem politically correct--that the best women athletes are a little more like men than the average woman. But on second thought, the best men champions may also test higher in testosterone levels, leaving us to conclude that it's just chemistry, that higher testosterone is an advantage when it comes to athleticism. Some things are better not known. As for Semenya, I'm sure she would agree with that.


I can't express how much sympathy I have for Semenya. She's stuck in a position where nothing she can do will let her fulfill her dreams.

It's unfair to the other women to allow her to to compete, and it's unlikely that she'll make the leap to men's competition.

I hope she finds away to pursue her passion for the sport, maybe as a coach.

Black Diaspora

Through no fault of her own, Caster Semenya may be disqualified from running because she has a testosterone advantage.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar had a height advantage, but he was allowed to play. Other athletes have brought a certain natural edge to the game--they could throw or hit the ball harder, could jump higher, could balance themselves better--and no one would consider disqualifying them for their natural advantage.

I know: They generally competed within their own gender, but the differences in natural abilities among them are stark in some cases, and the edge they receive as athletes is undeniable.

And that's the problem: Semenya's gender is ambiguous. What do we tell her? There's no place for you in sports. There's just not enough of your kind with which to compete.

Semenya's condition is not new in international sports:

"Athletes with AIS and similar intersex conditions are often allowed to compete in international athletics. At the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, seven genetically male athletes with AIS were allowed to compete as women."

It would be a shame if Semenya, in the interest of fairness, is denied for reasons other than her intersex status. It's boggling that I'm the only one here who's firmly in her corner, with the possible exception of one.

Sports is never fair. The best among us are the ones that excel and are applauded, and no one takes into account whether they have physical or genetic advantages.

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