Whenever I want to know what's up with the still-festering Caster Semenya case, I go to a South African website called "The Science of Sport." TSOS gets through the media murk to what the issues really are. It's run by two South African scientist/athletes, Ross Tucker PhD. and Jonathan Dugas, PhD. Tucker is science advisor for Runner's World SA. Ordinarily they comment about things like diet and endurance and such. This is their one big political thread. But unlike all the IAAF and SA officials who are commenting, they don't have a vested interest in this fight.
Previously the IAAF had announced that Semenya could keep her gold medal and prize money from the 800 meter run at the world championships in August 2009. Paradoxically, the IAAF hasn't yet completed their investigation of her gender. So this announcement about her medal doesn't mean that she is cleared to run again.
Yet IAAF's confidentiality rules (which were violated early in the scandal because of leaks to the media that she was being investigated) make it complicated for them to make any announcement about the results of their investigation. The media have circulated rumors that Semenya was found to have both male and female physical characteristics, including undescended testicles -- but the IAAF hasn't confirmed this. So it's gridlock time.
On 1/14, Semenya's coach announced that she would be re-launching in local SA competition, with a goal of running in European competition later in 2010. But the very next day, the IAAF and Semenya's own battery of lawyers made a counter- announcement that she is not eligible to run until the IAAF rules on her status. And IAAF isn't ruling. More gridlock.
Commenting on this gridlocked state of affairs, the New York Times said that it's "apparent how unprepared her sport was to handle cases of athletes who may have both male and female characteristics."
No kidding. Nearly half a century after the issue of gender identity was first raised in Olympic competition, and in spite of all the scientific revelations that moved the IAAF itself to stop most of the gender testing, the sports world still has no frikking idea what to do when issues involving real-life people come up. Like most of the rest of the world, it is locked into an ideological belief that gender is an either-or proposition. When it runs into the biological reality of how diverse and fluid gender can be, it just goes into meltdown and athletes' lives can be ruined. Is this not pathetic?
Questions abound. If the IAAF's standard battery of tests for determining the gender of an athlete is supposed to take "only a few weeks," why the gridlock? Why has the IAAF not come to a final decision after nearly five months?
If, as has been reported in the Guardian (UK), Semenya's testosterone level was found to be "three times higher" than normal but still within the range of what's considered "normal" for women, then why are there still issues about her testosterone level and alleged performance advantage?
At one point, last summer, there were concerns that Semenya may have been given steroids. The steroids test usually takes 24 days or so to process. So far we've heard nothing about Caster's results. Presumably the concerns have been laid to rest?
TSOS's Ross Tucker, commenting on 1/14, felt that her coach wouldn't have announced she'd run again unless he and Semenya had real intentions of moving forward. So Tucker offers this intriguing analysis of what Semenya's options might be:
- She has (or is in the process of), with the help of her lawyers, managed to cast enough doubt over the possibility that she has a performance advantage that the IAAF have to allow her to compete without any requirement for surgery or medical treatment.
- She has gone ahead with the surgery to remove the alleged internal testes, and now the way is clear for her to compete. The question is "when"? And this may be the debate currently holding up the announcement. We know from IAAF policy that a male can undergo sex re-assignment surgery, becoming female, and then be eligible to compete as a female after two years of hormone replacement therapy. Now, the question is, does she sit out for 2 years, or is that period shorter because she is not a "male-to-female" re-assignment?
End of quote.
If Semenya has to wait for two years, till she's 20, will that be a fatal gridlock for her career? Meanwhile, does "Science of Sport" think that the present gridlock can and will be resolved? TSOS doesn't make taboid-media-type guesses. But their full analysis is worth reading all the way through.
Bilerico readers who want to follow Semenya's tortuous situation should bookmark this page for TSOS's frequently updated reports.