Welcome to the Science of Sport, where we bring you the second, third, and fourth level of analysis you will not find anywhere else.

Be it doping in sport, hot topics like Caster Semenya or Oscar Pistorius, or the dehydration myth, we try to translate the science behind sports and sports performance.

Consider a donation if you like what you see here!

Did you know?
We published The Runner's Body in May 2009. With an average 4.4/5 stars on Amazon.com, it has been receiving positive reviews from runners and non-runners alike.

Available for the Kindle and also in the traditional paper back. It will make a great gift for the runners you know, and helps support our work here on The Science of Sport.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Caster Semenya debate takes a racist turn

From sad to ugly: Semenya's detractors "are racists of the highest order"

I suppose it was inevitable. Given the charged nature of the debate, given the controversy that can see 200 comments written to an article, the debate around the sex of Caster Semenya was always going to provoke emotive responses.

But how about this one:

"This is about racism," Chuene said. "These rumours come from South Africa. Why did these people write to the IAAF?

These are the same people who don't want the 2010 World Cup, the same people who bring black people down and the same people who refuse to believe that Africans can make it on the world stage."

You might think this is random statement made in the heat of the moment. But then you discover that this is a statement made by the President of Athletics South Africa, Leonard Cheune. And he is not alone. The Young Communist League here in South Africa said:

"This smacks of racism of the highest order. It represents a mentality of conforming feminine outlook within the white race,"

Of course, all are entitled to their opinion. It does not escape my attention that one of the most celebrated races of the entire world champs was the women's 10,000m, where Linet Masai outkicked Melkamu for gold.

ASA denies all responsibility

However, what I'm more concerned with is the following statement by Cheune:

Chuene denied that ASA could have put out fires before they started if they had tested Semenya before she rose to the highest stage of international athletics.

"The responsibility of the federation (ASA) is to train children and take them to the championships," Chuene said. "When a child is born, the parents don't take them for tests to find out if it is a boy or a girl, they simply look.

"The family will bring us a child and say they have given us a girl, and we accept that.

"We then prepare her, which we did, and she went on to win gold, so we've done our job. You tell me what more we could have done."

The reality, Mr Cheune and ASA, is that there was a lot of reason to suspect, because Caster Semenya has herself said that she has faced allegation and rumor ever since she was young. Similarly, her coach, Michael Seme, has said many times that she has been questioned, all through her career.

And finally, I have it on very good authority that people from South Africa had objected long before world championships. This is a problem that has existed for years.

ASA's responsibility and possible actions

Next, it is VERY MUCH ASA's responsibity to manage Semenya's the athlete, which surely includes this aspect. It is only in a completely amateur organization, which has zero strategic plan, where a federation can limit it's responsibility to training athletes only.

To put this as simply as possible, there are only four possible scenarios here:

  1. ASA did not do a single test on Semenya. If this is true, they have ignored the controversy, and the very obvious impending situation, and sent her into the Worlds, where this problem was going to surface. In this case, we have a case of neglect and irresponsibility.
  2. ASA did do some tests, but only cursory tests, which they believe sufficed. As we've explained, and many of you have commented, the sex determination test is enormously possible, with a risk of false results. If this is what happened, then it is a case of carelessness. And yet Semenya was sent, without proper process being followed, ASA should be held accountable.
  3. ASA did a very comprehensive tests, or did a minimum level of test, and uncovered that there was in fact grounds for suspicion. If this was true, then there is no way ASA should have entered Semenya, because they knew that a problem would arise. If they did, effectively playing Russain roulette with a young women's life, it would be despicable.
  4. ASA did a very comprehensive test, and discovered no reason at all to doubt her sex. If this was true, ASA would be in the clear, and no problem would exist. I think it's safe to say that this was NOT done, because Cheune would have said so in his interview and this problem would have been managed.
I'm not sure if there is anything I'm missing here? The way I see it, these are the only three options. What of the IAAF? People have accused them of bringing this on themselves.

I disagree. I know that the IAAF sent a letter to ASA requested a report, on July 31 this year - that was after Semenya ran 1:56 in Mauritius. This letter is crucial, because it indicates that there were grounds for suspicion, that ASA knew of the potential problem (which makes a mockery of Chuene's claims).

My wish is to find out what the ASA response to that request was. What did ASA say in response to the IAAF? Was testing conducted? How was it done? And most important, what did it find? If it found any evidence at all for a problem, then there should be grave consequences indeed.

But to blame racism for this...that only compounds the problem.

How sad. Disgraceful.



DrPete said...

Hayibo says it better than I ever could:


DrTim said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
DrTim said...

Brilliant post Dr Ross and Dr Pete.

It is a real worry though, the big P-word is rearing it's ugly head ... PROPAGANDA.

When you look at two factors intelligence vs motivation you get 4 quadrants;
1) Smart - Motivated people = the lieutenants.
2) Smart - Lazy people = the generals
3) Stupid - Lazy people = the grunts
4) Stupid - Motivated people = DANGEROUS!

It seems Leonard Cheune has rapidly been thrust from the 3rd quadrant to the 4th ...

Anonymous said...

Surely if Semanya hasn't raped any of the girls in the locker-room, or stolen their cars, she can't be a South African man?

Chris said...

I feel bad for her, she can't help her condition and she probably has been mocked all her life. At least she can be finally do something that she can be proud of.

Anonymous said...

I'm with the ASA on this one. If she has female genitalia and chromosomes then she is female. To DQ her on other grounds is absurd and opens the door way too wide to exclude other physically gifted athletes.

Further, the argument put forth by Dr(s). Ross and Pete about it 'not being fair to the rest of the field' doesn't hold water either. It's competition, and there are winners and losers. That's what defines competitive sport. Frankly the IAAF should not have the right to investigate further into her physiology if she tests clean and has the organs as well as the chromosomes. If you look hard enough, everyone is different.

Rod said...

Good article, and thanks for the analysis. Being a native of a developing country, it's not unusual for the authorities to be careless and show lack of thoroughness with their jobs (i.e., providing a good developing environment for their athletes) and instead defending themselves with rhetoric instead of facts.

Although I agree with "anonymous" above in the statement 'If she has female genitalia and chromosomes then she is female' (although I'd say if the tests CONCLUSIVELY conclude she is a woman), the fact is that the ASA is either ignorant (by failing to recognize that this athlete could face this claims as she gained exposure), lazy (by recognizing it but failing to pre-empt appropriate testing to dispel the doubts), or perverse (by finding there's no conclusive evidence the athlete should compete in a women's field, but still gambling on creating "outrage" and propaganda).

In any case, the ASA has demonstrated incompetence to handle this situation. And it could have been avoided simply (though maybe not easily) by performing the proper analysis beforehand and making them available.

Jet Wan said...

Many women of VARIOUS races have been suspected of being "intersexed" including the now celebrated Maria Mutola & some of the chemically enhanced East German's (NB East German female athletes have been disqualified for being "intersexed" even back in the 70's & 80's). The grand pubah, the IAAF has done nothing wrong. When someone performs a "miracle" in athletics they are duty bound to investigate if it is a legitimate result. ASA never responded adequately to the IAAF request prior to this championships so they screwed up. Not saying the IAAF doesn't screw up (they did validate all the performances of the chemical stained East Germans of the 70's & 80's and that wind aided 10.49 run by Flo Jo)...but at least they did what they needed when they have definitive proof someone is intersexed or gener re assigned...they disqualified them.
I'm sorry but the racist argument against whoever is nothing but just polemics.

Anonymous said...

Except that at this point we don't know if she has female genitalia and chromosomes. It's all speculation. We can probably assume that she has female-looking genitalia since I can't believe the ASA would be that stubborn. But the rest is up to the scientists to do the testing like they are now.

On the contrary, it is the responsibility of the ASA to be up to date on the rules and regulations of the IAAF and IOC. If they don't like the current rules, they're allowed to protest and lobby to change the rules, but picking and choosing rules to follow that are convenient is not productive.

They should have anticipated that there might be questions about Semenya's looks and simply presented their medical findings when asked for them instead of having both parties drag Semenya through the mud like she is now. The point is that they've had ample time to do any tests that they felt were necessary to protect their athletes.

Yeah, it does suck that women who look like men are probably going to get tested if they do well but it's not like it's never been done before so they don't have the excuse of "but we didn't know they would ask for a test." Until the "we only test women who have had a protest filed against them" clause gets changed, that's how it'll be.

The upside is that hopefully for the future, masculine-looking women will be more prepared ahead of time so the sex issue will turn into a nonissue. Then, the focus of the audience is where it should be -- on the actual event instead of these side issues.

Ross Tucker and Jonathan Dugas said...

Hi all

Thanks for the comments.

One or two responses:

To DrTim: Thanks for that! That's a great model, I'll use it in future, I am sure!

And to DrPete, thanks also for the hayibo article. I enjoy that kind of satire, it's great and often makes points far better than serious discussion could!

Then to respond to a few posts:

First, to Anonymous @ 7.19pm

You're wrong there - if she has female chromosomes and female genitalia, she is NOT NECESSARILY a female - there are a number of conditions that cause cause development of male testes (often internal) even with an XX chromosome and the presence of female genitalia. It's a little more complex than you make it out to be.

The issue here is that ASA had the responsibility, as directed by the IAAF, to investigate the case. That is quite apart from the fact that doubt had existed for years. Now we don't know the circumstances that led to her being entered - what did ASA do, what did they find? However, the point is that they did have a responsibility, one which they failed to perform with the necessary quality or diligence, and I think that Rod has accurately summed up the situation.

So to anonymous, your starting assumptions are that:
a) Having female genitalia and chromosomes is conclusive, and
b) ASA investigated this.

a) is just plain incorrect - the physiology tells us so, and those are facts. b) is conjecture, and maybe ASA did it, maybe they didn't. They fall into category 1 or 2 in this case, both of which are bad for them, and worse for Semenya.

Then to the rest, thank you for the inputs, I will certainly try to respond in due course, but like I have said, it's a tough one to keep up with here!


Anonymous said...

The "race card" has been worn so thin from overplay here in the US of late as to become transparent. The issue of race never entered my mind relating to her case. Now that it has been raised I must admit that the thought now occurs to me that if she were Caucasian or Asian she long ago would have been examined for gender determination.

Anonymous said...

It is 100% disgrace and it is hard not feel it personally for Caster and her family. There is a major difference between male and female sex, masculine and feminine gender I just like to state. Also, I am in agreement to anyone that calls this a racist attack. She did not just appear out of nowhere, Caster has been qualifying for the chance to compete at the WC like her fellow athletes. These questions that are being raised should have long been answered before the young lady won any medal to talk of gold. Caster was raised in the village, trained on rough terrain and from the newspaper articles I have read she is a tomboy, my first thoughts when I watched the race. Of fully black African decent myself I know the physical structure some women can possess when they are athletes, one of my close friend has the exact same build as her and is 100% female. Caster (and my friend) do not adhere to western or Eurocentric beauty, Caster is a south African through and through. She is black. She is black and beautiful. Most significantly and yet it is an incredible shame her 'beauty' is in question, but in order for the question to be answered it is by whose standards? It saddens me that in this century the so called modern era black beauty is still so controversial and ‘strange’ otherwise her sex and gender would not be in question.
If she is found psychologically, biologically and all the other logicallys there is to test her for, yes if she is found a man then is she now to run the men’s races?
Therefore is it not wise to test all athletes on whether they are female or male regardless of psychical appearance before they being qualifying. As many who have medals have slipped the radar in the past, many who could go on to win can slyly or without knowing take medals home and those that do not take anything but qualify would be taking the space of other people who are a particular sex.
Regardless, are you not a sex if you declare you are that sex? Far too controversial and individualistic for any group of people to determine; the whole shebang is uncalled for and highly detrimental. It would have just been better to test Caster for drugs if her win by far was so upsetting to the officials.

Anonymous said...

The German and Swiss press are already reporting that Dr. Ekkart Arbeit, one the DDR’s chief chemists and athletics trainers and who now works in South Africa, found a way to temporarily surpress Semenya’s testosterone levels (found to be three times the normal level of female athletes).

The IAAF was caught flat-footed and initiated tests after Semenya showed up in Berlin and ran her heat. My projection is that the tests will come back “inconclusive,” Semenya will be permitted to run a few races in Europe for significant prize money and then will quietly retire from the sport.

A very vocal protest from the ASA might prolong the controversy, with even more tests disputed, and permit Semenya to run the European circuit next summer. She would then return to South Africa and live on her prize money better than 95% of his / her countrymen.

Anonymous said...

A Swiss tabloid (http://www.blick.ch/sport/mehr/leichtathletik/caster-semenya-opfer-krimineller-funktionaere-126558) reports that ASA's test showed that Semenya is a hermaphrodite and that they failed to inform IAAF, Semenya or her family because they wanted to profit from it at Semenya's expense.

They also claim that the current head coach of SA was a former East German coach well known for using illegal substances, and that he used his knowledge so that Semenya's testosterone levels wouldn't raise any suspicions when tested.

OK, this is a tabloid reporting so I wouldn't trust their information, but IF this turns out to be true I would really like to know how ASA can have the nerves to claim "foul play" and racism by others when they used Semenya like that.

Drs. Cynthia and David said...

Just speculating here, but if she has female chromosomes and genitalia, but ultimately is determined to have some sort of residual testes (or androgen secreting tumor for that matter), presumably producing testosterone and giving her an advantage, what of it? both women and men have naturally widely varying levels of hormones do they not? Will we start testing women for testosterone levels to determine who should be disqualified, even if it is high normal? What about for men- is higher testosterone rewarded, or grounds for disqualification because it gives unfair advantage to some men?


Hummingirl said...

I think this article explains the science of gender identification quite well. I hope that if it turns out Caster is a hermaphrodite or has some other form of intersexuality she'll help other people who are discriminated against because of something in their genes they can't control.

Anonymous said...

Can testosterone change the shape of a girls body in that way, if taken in early years and for a long time?

Alexis said...

Jet Wan, the East German athletes were not intersexed. They were the victims of a massive doping programme. One (Heidi Krieger) later became transgendered as a result of the programme and had sex reassignment surgery.

Anonymous said...

Ross promised us so much ..."I am going to do a post on this soon" etc...then delivered little more than tabloid journalism does, or what anyone with access to Google and an audience could have.
Of course a troll website (letsrun) think its great journalism and science...and they'll just pat each other on the back.

Now he is inviting comment on the race card being played....what is that exactly going to achieve....more outlandish racist remarks?

Not everything is solved by science. The posters who say that genitalia and chromosome is enough (inc Dr's Cynthia et al) are right.

Where do you draw the line if you are not automatically or mandatorily going to test every female athlete for the same criteria...and I wounder what we are going to find, because no study has so far been done on all those factors vis a vis athletic performance.

Assuming she had female genitalia at birth, what exactly were they supposed to put on her birth certifiacte, and what was ASA supposed to infer from that birth certificate.
To test someone (after all that) just on pure suspicion , when you are not testing others may in fact also infringe some human rights or liberty.

Now, having done the tests...let's wait until the results are returned before making further comment on something we know jack about.

The pot shots at establishment are becoming tedious to be honest.

Ross Tucker and Jonathan Dugas said...

To the last anonymous poster

Are you serious? It's been three days, and I did say that I was very busy at a Convention on which I was an organizer, and would only have the time to do this post next week!

You have brought little to this discussion other than your accusation, and it's completely unfounded. As for the contention that female gentialia and chromosomes prove female sex, well, that's 100% wrong, which means you are doing something I am not - passing an opinion on something which you do not understand...


Ross Tucker and Jonathan Dugas said...

Hi all

To Anonymous at 10.34pm

I'm not sure race applies - I must point out that the very first allegations against Semenya were in South Africa by her competitors, who were predominantly black (as per media reports). So I would see that it's not a simple case of Europeans discriminating.

Also, history has similar cases and this is the first one involving a black woman - most of the previous cases were European (many were drug-induced, of course, but some were physiological), and there is the famous Indian athlete as well, so I would have to disagree about race. It's also telling that Jamaican women have dominated the events in Berlin, winning the 100m, 400m hurdles, 100m hurdles, and not one has been suspected. and the winner of the women's 400m is the same. As is the winner of the women's 10,000m. No suspicion. So I think the race card is being wrongly played here, myself.

this also has nothing to do with beauty. She didn't enter a beauty pageant, she entered a running race, where the allegation is that she had an advantage and should not be competing. The argument over beauty is not relevant, I don't believe - that is in the eye of the beholder, and I have no opinion on that.

And then I'm not sure what Caster being tested for drugs would prove? You seem to have adopted the position that Caster is only being 'targeted' because her win is upsetting to officials, which is just incorrect. The suspicion has existed for years, and the report by the IAAF was requested 3 weeks ago. So I think this is an age-old argument, saying that it's "sour grapes" on the part of the losers...

Where I do agree is that it should have been resolved before it played out in front of the world, because that is unfair on Semenya.

Then to anonymous at 11.04pm.

Yes, i've seen those reports. Thank you for the link. If they are true, then this is even worse than first thought. I hope that the investigation reveals all these things with certainty so that we can know exactly what went on here.

It will be very interesting to see if your projection is correct. I tend to agree that they may have to say "inconclusive" and I agree that she will not be a presence on the global scene for a long time, so you may be right. If it turns out to be true that ASA knew something was up and covered it up, then ASA will have little bargaining power and the protest will be much less vocal. Even if the physiology is disputed, the management may not be, and that may clinch Semenya's fate. That's why I have focused mostly on that and not too much on the specifics of the case.

As to the actual allegation, it is true that Arbeit IS the head coach. So that part is true, I don't know about the rest of it, but as I say, if it is...wow, then it's worse than anyone thought. And yes, to then shout racism and be vocal about it, that would be astonishing. I almost don't believe it for that reason. But, then again, it's not inconceivable.

To anonymous at 12.14am:

Yes, it could, it would affect development of the skeleton and muscle, and the voice and other features - distribution of body fat and so forth. So doping early would have this effect. EVen later in life, same effect.

Finally, again to anonymous at 8.15am:

I'm still amazed at how demanding you are - the post where I said I'd do something in detail was on Wednesday afternoon, and so it's only been 2 days, where I'm fully employed at an all-day Convention (which i said), yet I'm still called out for not delivering...

I guess I'll take it as a compliment that anyone could produce that kind of complex article in such a short space!

Thanks all for your comments!

Anonymous said...

Hi All.

I just hope that the mounting number of people joining in on the blame game and adding there voice to ever growing chorus of racist allegations, including ASA, Caster's family and friends and the politicians, all love her and support her without prejudice if the worst case scenario is true.

If it all turns out for the best, I hope she is managed and guided by people that have her best interests at heart, that can put aside their own interests and political or career ambitions. If a fledgling talent such as hers is destroyed befor she even begins it will also be a tragedy. Here is hoping we see the first womans sub 1:50 800m at the London Olympics..

Either way, the young lady is going to need a lot of love and support!

I just somehow get the feeling that quite a few, very opinionated people have not really thought about the implications of the future either way.

Dr said...

There have been at least 9 cases but probably a lot more where chromosomes + genitals gave a wrong result. Maria Patino with AIS, 7 Atlanta Olympics women with AIS, and that one other Atlanta case with the 5-alpha-steroid reductase deficiency.

In addition, the 2004 guidelines about transsexuals are another disconnect with regard to chromosomes. To be fair, I'm not aware of any XX women that were disqualified (especially since stuff like CAH is allowed) except those that did intentional doping. The entire reason the IAAF and IOC went off chromosome testing is that they figured out back in 1999, that this methodology was terrible at getting the right answer (error rate of about 1 in 400). 1 in 400 is acceptable? See Soundarajan's case where she tried to commit suicide because of the probable incorrect test result.

The current system is not that great because they should be testing everyone but until medical science comes up with a better test, there's not much anyone can do except use the current "protest" system. Of course, in general (not Semenya specific) there is an element of unintentional racism in that there are more media outlets in Western countries, who are going to be the judge of "feminine beauty" and unfairly judge the beauty (or lack thereof as perceived by journalists) of those in other countries.

However, there's absolutely nothing preventing the South Africans from filing the same gender protests against other competitors that they feel are suspicious. After all, the Czech Kratochvilova and all of those old East Germans have had a large cloud of suspicion over them. All masculine-looking women usually just get accused of heavy doping when they look like Heidi/Andreas Krieger. I'm not really sure why Semenya didn't just get accused of plain old doping since doping will tend to give a masculine look.

If I had to wager, I'd say Semenya will get cleared with regard to gender. Doping results are probably negative or else we would have heard by now. I could be wrong with regard to the sex testing, but if it was really an open-and-shut case (first pass is anatomy), she would have already been cleared instead of this mess dragging on for weeks. Next pass is probably karyotype and SrY complex testing along with levels of testosterone and others.

If anything, since something is not clear, the IAAF is bending over backwards to give Semenya the benefit of the doubt.

Note that females with
-AIS (46XY female with no internal genitalia)
-CAH (46XX male without testes) -androgen producing tumors
-anovulatory androgen excess are all allowed for females and the last 3 can give a competitive advantage.

They need the full battery of tests because it could be something weird like the 5ARD mentioned above or 17BHDD, where the person looks female at birth and only acquires masculine traits at puberty.

Full IAAF guidelines: http://www.iaaf.org/mm/Document/imported/36983.pdf

Ross Tucker and Jonathan Dugas said...

Hi Dr

What a magnificent post! Thank you so much for putting that together, I really appreciate the information and the insight!

I may even use this in the future!


Anonymous said...

It may well be the case, and we are not sure at this stage in any case, that Semenya was born with ambiguous genitalia or ais - as other posters have mentioned. This may not have been detected at birth in her poor and remote village in the Limpop Province.

Hence, some of the statements from people who knew her such as: her keenness to mix in with boys at sports time; her lack of developing breasts; her lack of desire for boys etc.

This is getting very messy and ASA have a lot to answer for. Their denial is akin to South African old wives tales about HIV and how it is spread and contracted. Even Semenya now is condemning ASA for sending her and this in itself is concerning as it is showing that she is also beginning to ask questions about herself and what she is.

A query however is: if the IAAF find that she does have male chromosones will she be immediately stripped of her medal and banned? Or will they consider for her the option of increased doses of oestrogen along with removal of any possible testes or any other male organs? As happened in the case of Erika Coimbra of the Brazilian female volleyball team and the Brazailian judo wrestler? Otherwise, what would happen to her and her career? Especially due to the high cases of suicide that occur in such instances, as with the Indian runner who later attempted suicide when she failed her test.

Ross Tucker and Jonathan Dugas said...

To anonymous at 5.37pm.

Good question. First of all, I agree with your observations, and comments re ASA. I hope we get those answers.

To answer your question, I'm not 100% sure. I think the answer may be a legal one, not a scientific one, and it's not one I'm qualified to give!

Whether she is allowed to compete in the future will depend on what the condition is (this is all assuming it finds anything, which we al know is not a sure thing). As you point out, athletes have been allowed to compete after medical intervention before. This is possible in some cases and maybe this is one of them.

What happens to the gold medal, I don't know. Semenya didn't cheat - she may have had an advantage, but it wasn't from cheating and so perhaps they can't actually take the gold away. ASA certainly would face heavy condemnation if it is discovered that they knew something but eneterd anyway, but I'm not sure she's guilty of anything.

So maybe a ban for the future, contingent of medical intervention, is what we'll see if the results come back providing some evidence. I don't know.

I'm afraid that for Semenya, it may already be too late, she's been so exposed and it's so difficult for her now, regardless of what happens. That's why it's so difficult, this situation, and so regrettable that it has gone this far!


Jason said...

This is a great site that you have here. I have a sports site myself where everyone can share their thoughts on major issues. Maybe we can do a link exchange. Let me know.


Anonymous said...

I oversimplified in my original (anonymous 7:18 post) when I said female genitalia. I meant the whole female reproductive system, including the ovaries, uterus, cervix, etc. Historically the term female means a member of the sex that produces eggs and/or bears children. Even though that definition has been somewhat distorted in recent medical literature, I think that should be the determining factor*. These other tests for hormone levels, muscoskeletal composition and gender identification personality profiles are just science for the sake of science. T

*with the exception being that women who are infertile due to natural causes.

Anonymous said...

There is also the case of the American runner Helen Stephens a contemporary of Stella Walsh, both cases of which are very similar to the case of Semenya.

Helen Stephens on her death was found to possess ambiguous genitalia. She was also like Semenya in that she was much stronger than her female contemporaries; no breasts; deep voice etc.

In addition to my points that I mentioned above, which were responded to by Ross, there is also the opportunity for Semenya, if it is proven that she had an unfair advantage she could turn to training other young and potential male and female atheletes in South Africa and set up some kind of sports school.

- Paul

Anonymous said...

Today’s Spanish daily newspaper El Mundo (www.elmundo.es) details the interesting case of María José Martínez Patiño, who has been mentioned earlier in this blog. In a “routine” examination of female athletes (examinations which are no longer conducted, except by request), at the University Games in Kobe, Japan in 1985, it was discovered that she had the XY chromosome.

The Spanish Athletics Federation hoped to hide these findings, and reached an agreement with Patiño that she retire from the sport and compete no more. Initially she agreed, but in January, 1986 she entered an athletics meeting in Oviedo, in northern Spain.

The Spanish Athletics Federation stated that it had no choice but to make her case known to the media, and Patiño was stripped of her records and titles. Two years later, she was re-instated but never reached her former times.

What is not clear from the article is which, if any, other sex tests were conducted on Patiño, either in Kobe or afterwards. Or, what were the reasons (stated or unstated) for her re-instatement, unless new evidence became available.

Odidiva said...

THE WHOLE FIELD SHOULD BE TESTED. ALL FEMALE ATHELETES SHOULD BE TESTED. Maria Mutola, Flo Jo actually most Black Female atheletes seem to go through this accussation of being physically too masculine. The Williams sisters get this all the time even when Dinara Safina who is taller and heavier then both Serena and Venus, plays the same tournaments.
These tests are not conclusive. Please Read the City Press and get some clues from another scientist.
The RACE CARD is shown because RACE IS A FACTOR, people who live in a world dominated by White values, ethos and priviledge and a sense of entitlement, but who are NOT white understand that. It begins with Barbie and G I JOE, HEMAN and SHERA and continues with the only black females visible being the likes of ass kicking Grace Jones and blue eyed long weaved Naomi Campbell.
White Culture must accept responsibility for its brutal actions against a world they constantly and shamelessly dictate to.
DR. Ross and Dr. Pete both know that this situation is not fair but they say its necessary, we'll see about that when the results come out.
Negligence by ASA I disagree, intolerance, discrimination and bigotry by the World in General and IAAF, YES!

Ross Tucker and Jonathan Dugas said...

Dear Odidiva

In the history of the sport, this is the first case I know of where allegations of this sort have made such headlines. yes, Maria Mutola faced the same issues, but so did Jarmila Kratochvilova, and Maria Patino, and Stella Walsh, Helen Stephens, and numerous others from America and Europe. ANd just so you know, Dinara Safina has been questioned, as has Amelie Mauresmo, at stages in their careers.

I don't disagree that we are too quick to judge African women. But I do think that you are too quick to generalize wholly as you are, because there are just far more black women who do win and are not questioned - nobody challenged Marion Jones, Shelley Ann Fraser, Merlene Ottey, Kelli White, Allyson Felix, Melaine Walker, Sanya Richards and so on.

So I think it's a little simplistic to make one conclusion. And also, you're basically shouting at everyone in your message, which betrays the emotion you have, which is your perogative, but also uncalled for, I feel.

And finally, I don't have access to City Press, so please, do enlighten me - what clues am I missing?


Ross Tucker and Jonathan Dugas said...

HI again Odidiva

I have managed to find City Press online, but I can't for the life of me find any reference at all to science or another scientist is their article on Semenya.

So I really am interested - what clues are you referring to? I would not be surprised if another scientist has come out and said that genetic testing or a simple physical examination would be enough.

One of us is wrong, one of us is right. I guess you will believe the person who says most what you wish to hear.

And then finally, I must make the point that I don't particularly care what the results of the testing are - I hope for Semenya's sake that they come back conclusively that she is female, but I have no vested interest in it. I have not once alleged that she is a man, all I have done is comment on the process and provide what I hope is some form of education around the topic. My opinion on her sex is irrelevant to these posts.


Frans Rutten said...

IMO the race card is not at stake.
It's simply the fact people seeing someone emerge in no-time from almost total obscurity to absolute world level. Which of cause at the same time revealed the so-called obvious aside from it's being correct or not. In Jelimo's case, the obvious wasn't there. Should Semenya be ran out of the heats directly, "no one" would have noticed, although her 1:56.72 already did the trick though.

What bathers me, learning today that she is allegedly a first year sport science student: how can she not have known that's she would be in the midst of a storm. Or did she and her companions believe they were in the eye of the storm, where's it's allegedly calm.

The discrepancy of her performance can be seen in comparing her time with the runner-up. On the all time world list: 26 vs 573.

Unknown said...

I tend to agree that they may have to say "inconclusive" and I agree that she will not be a presence on the global scene for a long time, so you may be right.


Cash Online Get Easy cash at your door step

Robbie Fields said...

This is a cross post from the tail end of an earlier thread.


Terrific, world class blog; proudly South African but not at all parochial, if I may say so.

I am an American living in South Africa and was once a freelance sports journalist in east Germany (DDR).

I agree with you that this story is more about sports (mal)administration than the athlete herself.

I can only hope that Ms. Semenya will have signed up with a top sports agency before leaving Berlin and will now have her financial future secured rather than placing her fate in the hands of the national federation.

I believe that Semenya will ultimately be able to compete in the next Olympics but only if she chooses medical intervention.

But what if she is actually a fully functioning male with (possibly undescended) testes and micropenis? Is it right that we should encourage her possible self mutilation just so that she can compete in women's athletics?

By all accounts, she identifies herself as female only because her Book of Life so indicated and her family has raised her as such.

But why does her "maleness" matter?

Another commentator from 21 August 2009 9:51 PM by bringing up the case of Renee Richards, unwittingly makes the best argument for sex/gender testing in women's sports.

Richard Raskind was a high ranking junior but by no means a tennis prodigy. He played collegiate tennis at Yale ... once again he was not an NCAA stand out, just a good male player, not even journeyman class as a young male player.

At age 41, after sexual reassignment Richard Raskind became Renee Richards and decided to compete in professional tennis as a woman.

As a middle aged person, She reached #20 in the Ladies' singles rankings and was a grand slam finalist in doubles, in other words a world class athlete by female standards. Even her sometime doubles partner Martina Navratilova was unable to compete in singles at that level in her forties.

Men's sport has largely become "open". Women are allowed to compete and a few have tried, viz. Annika Sorenstam in golf, Ann Meyers in basketball, even the Williams sisters contemplated it for tennis but there is a real gulf between the highest male and female achievers of the species.

Without controls, the cheaters will win every time. Even with controls, the cheating continues. It's just hard or impossible for fans to accept that their sporting heroes have feet of clay.

Anonymous said...

Hi there
While many of Ross's points are valid- he is biased. I cannot see how he can slam the racist accusations without looking at what in our society makes some people believe that there is an element of racism. After all, isn't racism always an issue of perception? So while he may not feel there is merit( for the calls of racism) in some people's perspective there is. What bothers me even more is that Ross's criticism of what ASA should have done in fact accedes to this perception of racism- in layman's terms what he is saying is: we should have done these psychological damning test inhouse before the international body could do it. How would this have helped matters? So it's easier to go with the flow, share the info in house than have the international body see it before ours does, than from the onset say it's wrong.
In closing, food for thought: Think of all our SA female sports stars- in particular our past and present swimming stars- not once has there been an outcry for gender testing yet numerous comments on some of our females' masculine features are made at social gatherings. Usually someone slamdunks these comments( rightfully so) as sexist before it goes any further. I wonder why there has never been a suggestion that we have to do gender testing on them. Was it because of the colour of their skin?

Angela DSD said...

There does not appear to be a good understanding of the complexity of variables that interact to cause someone to look stereotypically male/female. I urge interested people to look at www.aissg.org (a support group website), then click on "related conditions".

Possibly, a kind of model could be created into which information regarding hormone levels, chromosomal variations, internal reproductive development, etc. gets plugged in. This may end up in a few surprises to say the least, but it is not in place now!

I know of a baby girl born with XY chromosomes - 13 years ago. The endocrinologist present at the time did not encourage the parents to make contact with XY women in South Africa. His words were something like "it is rife in the black communty" (basically implying "you don't want to know"). All I can say is that it is wonderful that the South African public been so supportive of our star - regardless of her race. We have come a long way!

Regards Angela

Ross Tucker and Jonathan Dugas said...

Hi to the latest anonymous poster.

I really hope you get to read this...

First, thank you for the thoughtful way in which you put your case forward. I may disagree, but I appreciate how eloquently you stated it, it was refreshing given that people so often become rather less than eloquent when this subject arises!

To address your points:

I am sure I have some biases, you're right. That bias is not racism, however, I must stress this. Rather, my bias exists against mismanagement by ASA and the fact that they are now shooting from the hip and pretty much claiming an extreme form of racism, which I do believe is unfounded.

Had ASA had the manners and sense to put their case forward in the way that you have, then I'd be far more willing to listen. But they didn't, and so my bias comes through in the fact that they have said such things as "She is only being questioned because she is an AFrican who has beaten Europeans".

This kind of approach helps no-one. The fact is, every single medal in th 100m, 200m, 400m, 400m hurdles, 5000m, and 10000m events was won by an African.

Also, the common talk from ASA has been that the test is simple. This is where I have focused my efforts as a scientist, because the test is not simple, and you can't just look at someone in the shower if you want to know if they are male or female.

To respond to the questio about ASA's mismanagement, I have to disagree that I am perpetuating a racist attitude. The fact of the matter is that Semenya has been doubted all her life - her high school principal did not know that she was a girl under she was 17. Similarly, a number of her rivals and officials have been questioned.

Now, ASA, as the custodian of the sport in this country, are responsible for the management of athletes, whether they will admit this or not (if you want to agree with them, then you have to ask: If it's not ASA's job to look after all aspects of the athlete, then who must do this?)

So, ASA KNEW that there was a history of doubt over Semenya. They received requests from the IAAF to produce a report (though they are disputing this), and they have encountered questions on her before. Yet they did nothing and are now shouting loudly to try to win the debate.

That to me is very poor, and they are fully deserving of criticism. We should have done the tests for the simple reason that ASA are tasked with the implementation of IAAF rules. Those rules necessitated that Semenya be tested to protect her from this storm. This would never have happened if good management at ASA saw them do the testing, then submit a comprehensive report to the IAAF. The IAAF would then accept the report and this would never develop into the firestorm that it is now.

Finally, to respond to the issue of white women being questioned. You must be careful about making sweeping statements like that, because history has produced many white women who WERE questioned and suspected, and some have even had their lives ruined by this process.

I will give you five names:

Stella Walsh, Helen Stephens, Fatima Whitbred, Maria Patino, and Amelie Mauresmo.

There are many more, but it means that your last point is wrong - this is not a question asked only of black athletes, and you need to appreciate the history of gender testing to understand that.


Anonymous said...

Not to be picky, but when you said "The fact is, every single medal in the 100m, 200m, 400m, 400m hurdles, 5000m, and 10000m events was won by an African.", that isn't really true. I'm guessing that the Jamaicans wouldn't identify themselves as "African" nor would most of the other Caribbean or American athletes.
Perhaps I missed something along the way and you weren't referring to Berlin.

Anonymous said...

Some thoughts:

Lots of finger pointing at ASA and IAAF. What about the HPC at TUKS where she trains? They have doctors, physiologists, psychologists etc. Are they ignorant, or did they choose to ignore the problem of confirming her gender.

I guess LTAD is out the window so SASCOC can stop hounding the federations. Hut in Limpopo village to World Champion in 2 years!!!

We shouldnt critisize Malema for his comments. We should just give him the closing slot at the Nando's comedy festival. Hilarious. What will he say next - cant wait

Coach of another sport

Ross Tucker and Jonathan Dugas said...

Hi Anonymous

No, you're quite right to be picky - serves me right for being in such a hurry writing this post.

You're right, they are not African, but of African descent, I should have specified this.

However, the allegation by the politicos and the commenter to whom I was responding, is that white/European are discriminating against people based on their colour, so I should have made the point that this can't be a black-white issue, given that so many medals are taken by those athletes.

Thanks for picking it up - just a clarification was required!


Laurie said...

What is disturbing about this issue is the lack of any sense of a bright-line test.
I understand that the dividing line between the sexes may be gray in certain individuals, and that the issue is complex. (And I personally don't know too much about the physiology of sex.)

But in order to give competitors and spectators a sense of the legitimacy of the competition, the powers-that-be need to find some way of establishing sex in a clear way that people can understand and accept -- even if the line of demarcation is somewhat arbitrary. Otherwise, whatever the result, there will always be a question of whether Semenya won fairly (if she is determined to be a woman) or a question of whethr she ought to be considered the "real" winner (if she is determined to be a man). And that's not fair to anyone.

Anonymous said...

I found the thread of this post stimulating, informative and refreshing to read on an otherwise heated topic. But am hoping the authors of this blog might read this link to see a more nuanced discussion on the legitimate merits of race to this situation. I think, too often, people indignantly react to the claim of racism without fully understanding what that claim encompasses. Indeed it is likley we may not ever see something if we are not the targets. http://www.racialicious.com/2009/08/26/is-the-caster-semenya-sex-controversy-racist/

Ross Tucker and Jonathan Dugas said...

Hi Anonymous at 3.02

Thanks for the comments and the link.

It is an interesting piece, and I am trying to remain as objective as it is possible. You are right that we often don't see what we are not exposed to. However, I do believe that there is some objectivity here.

I just want to throw out some names:

Stella Walsh
Helen Stephens
Fatima Whitbred
Dinara Safina
Amelie Mauresmo
Jarmila Kratochvilova

Six athletes, all white, who have spent a great deal of time deflecting questions about their sex/gender as well.

My point is, your article mentions a number of people (I had never realised Michele Obama faced questions - that is crazy), but the same approach can be used the other way. Then of course you have 100 black athletes who have NOT been questioned for every black athlete who is.

I just cannot see how this can logically be an argument about race, when muscular, strong white women are asked the same question. Incidentally, in two of those names (the top two - Walsh and Stephens), it later emerged that the suspicion was justified, and so sometimes (not always), the external appearance DOES tell you something!


Anonymous said...

Attention Ross Tucker,

I am a prodcer with ABC radio in Australia and I'm trying to track down a contact for Ross Tucker. I am putting together a program about the sex testing of female athletes and was wondering if he would have a chat with me. many thanks Annabelle Quince

Ross Tucker and Jonathan Dugas said...

Hi Annabelle

THanks for the email

My email address is sportsscientists@gmail.com

You can use that to reach me and then I'll let you know other contact details.


The Furious Nurse said...

World champion skier Erika Schinegger

Why is it that because Caster is BLACK its racist to point out unfair disadvantages of high levels of testosterone has in woman's competition? Others have had to deal with what Caster is going through but because they were WHITE is not racist.
Grow up people.

The Furious Nurse said...

World champion skier Erika Schinegger

Why is it that because Caster is BLACK its racist to point out unfair disadvantages of high levels of testosterone has in woman's competition? Others have had to deal with what Caster is going through but because they were WHITE is not racist.
Grow up people.

Angela DSD said...


Re: Todays article:

I doubt Caster has AIS. She is too masculine to not have virilised. I would guess testicular regression syndrome or XX with overactive adrenals. I think the Aussie diagnosis is heresay based on a knowledge of AIS.

Just some comments!

1: The term "Hermaphrodite", which you correctly say is incorrect, is not used anymore for ANY classification of intersex. (see www.aissg.org)

2: Most people with AIS or CAIS would not like to be classified as an "undermasculinised male". they more than often don't know anything is amiss until there is lack of menstruation.

3: The term "psuedohermaphrodite" is also outdated.

Angela of saais@iafrica.com
(Support group for people with AIS)