Does Caster have an unfair advantage?
August 8, 2012 in London 2012
With SA’s flag bearer in the opening ceremony of the 2012 Olympic games, Caster Semenya, competing in the 800m for women tonight, I thought I’d revisit an old post of mine.
In 2009 Caster Semenya was cast into much controversy when rumours emerged during the World Championship in Berlin, that she was in fact a man. Well, the athletes that talked to her and probably spent time with her could not be blamed for being suspicious. However, the major issue was that such a big issue was made of it in the media before her final event, that it seemed as if someone was out to hope she fails.
She was afterwards subjected to much humiliation, despite winning gold, and ASA accused the IAAF of racism when they made it public that she would be tested whether she is a women.
She was subsequently cleared with her tests and may legally take part in women’s events. But we are still not much the wiser as to the criteria and the application thereof for qualifying as a woman in athletics. I for one would surely watch more athletics if more of the women looked like Allisson Stokke. But the fact of the matter is, athletics are not just for the beauty queens, they are for athletes, and my view is, if IAAF says its ok, then it must be. I cannot think that IAAF has anything to gain by allowing her to compete against women if she, according to their tests and trials, have an unfair advantage over other women due to genetics.
It is also a well known fact that many men who have sex changes, look just as feminine, if not more feminine than many women. But we do not know for sure if she has an advantage over other female athletes, and if she does, how much of an advantage?
Maybe the whole problem is the lack of transparency by the IAAF, them not giving us all the details of their findings. But then there is that little issue about privacy, I mean, who, other than Jenna Jameson would like to have all their juicy bits splurged all over the world!
The whole question regarding why gender testing has been introduced, was to make the competition fair to women, by eliminating men, posing as women, from the competition. Now, men, posing as women, indicates a conscious and intentional act to pose as a woman, while knowingly being a man. This probably included for some period, men putting on dresses and men who had sex changes.
Therefore I can see why it was necessary to perform some level of testing to keep the competition fair. Testing for an athlete’s gender has been in place now for more than 40 years, and had the purpose of testing whether a female athlete was actually a man, according to sports scientist, Tim Noakes. So why are they now testing for someone to be a woman?
Gender testing is not a new thing. Why were we so up in arms about Caster Semenya being tested? I say “We” because I was also one of those who are crying foul of the IAAF, citing ulterior motives.
I believe that it infuriated me so much, because it must have been so horrifying for this young girl, to perform so well, and then be called a man. Just imagine, your entire life, you have been living as a complete woman, (whatever the criteria for that may be according to the IAAF!), and all of a sudden, you find yourself having to defend your existence as one! It must be so humiliating! The poor girl could not even enjoy the medal ceremony back then, it was evident on her expressions and she was clearly so self conscious that the whole special occasion was empty to her.
But Semenya isn’t the first to be cast under controversy.
In 1932 there was a female athlete called Stella Walsh. She set the world alight with her record breaking times in the 100m. The Washington post reported that she was beaten by Helen Stephens in 1936, after which the Polish media (Stella’s origin) accused Helen of being a man. At the time, gender testing was not performed, but one could think that in the early years of female athletics there would have been some form of “just checking” whether an athlete was a man or a woman. Be that as it may, Helen was never tested, and the accusations were “baseless”. Well, look at the picture below and decide for yourself, which is Stella and which was Helen.
After Stella’s tragic death by being shot during a robbery, some 44 years later, the discovery was made that she had what they called, “ambiguous” genitalia. Interestingly, they mentioned the absence of internal female reproductive organs, which leads me to believe that she had the “external” so to speak, organs and had male and female chromosomes. What is important, is that it was officially stated, that despite the abnormalities, she was a female as she has lived her entire life as a woman, was considered and accepted socially and culturally as one and was in fact, legally a women. Stella is on the right, and Helen on the left.
What should therefore be the criteria of being a women? It really is not that complicated.
The first woman to have failed a gender test was Eva Klobukowska. To me she looks like a woman. Who is to say she is not, but more importantly, why was she tested? It is unclear as what caused the move.
In 2006 Santhi Sadjouran was stripped of her silver medal, also after failing a gender test. Who would have guessed that this women could be a man? More importantly, why was she tested? It was apparently said that she had more Y chromosomes than “allowed”, but the source was anonymous per nbcsports.
“Allowed”. So, what exactly are the criteria, as there should be some then? And if performance and appearance are criteria, why was Santhi tested? It was also reported that she attempted suicide after this ordeal, which is indicative of the emotional strain this took on her. And understandably so! She is a woman, for goodness sake, and now they dare tell her, she is not!?
I had a look at the physical attributes of the top 800m athletes according to http://www.time-to-run.com/track/800m/women/all-time.htm
Which would you consider, should have been tested for gender verification? Most of these athletes did sub 1:55 in the 800m, so performance should have been an indicator. As far as I could tell, only Maria Muthola was subjected, but I could not confirm.
Interestingly, in 1996 during the Atlanta games, 8 women failed gender tests, but were subsequently cleared. In 1985, Spanish hurdler, Maria Patina, failed a gender test, but was reinstated after it was found that she was resistant to the strength promoting abilities of testosterone.
The bottom line is, the process is inconsistent and based on prejudicial views of what a woman should look like and on a set of standards which do not cater for natural anomalies in the human body.
So, why am I saying Semenya is being singled out? If you have a look at the top athletes, their performances (which all outclassed Semenya’s) and consider they were never tested, and if you consider that no announcements were made by the IAAF (as far as I could find) about their intentions to subject women to the tests (keeping it confidential!) until such time as the results were available, I believe that the way Semenya was treated is inexcusable and reeks of targeting someone and trying to emotionally de-stabilise her before the final event. Whether she has more male chromosomes than female chromosomes has nothing to do with her being a women, and the tests should have been done in the utmost of .privacy for her, and had she failed, those results could have been made public.
She’s passed all the tests now, but still some will not let it rest and accept that, despite her anomolies, she “qualifies” as a women under the IAAF rules, and I think people should just accept it and hope that she will bring back an Olympic medal for South Africa.