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Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Caster Semenya: Male or female?

Caster Semenya's sex in doubt, as reports of sex testing and potential disqualification surface

Thank you for visiting The Science of Sport. You've come to the right place for insight and analysis of sports news, starting with the controversy around Caster Semenya. Read on for the very first article I wrote on the story, on Wed 19 August, when the story broke.  Obviously a lot has happened since, and some of those articles are listed below.

However, if you'd like to read our latest thoughts, in the aftermath of her silver medal in Daegu, read my latest piece here

And for other articles, check out the following posts:


The Caster Semenya Controversy

By now, most of you will be aware that South Africa's 800m sensation, Caster Semenya, has been reported as a potential disqualification from tonight's 800m final in Berlin, on the grounds that the IAAF had conducted tests on her to establish her sex, and that she might be male (I must clarify this - it's not an issue of male vs female, but of "entirely female", since she may possess secondary male characteristics as a result of some condition, reported as hermaphroditism).

This latest report (unconfirmed, I might add, at least with respects to the DQ - apparently the testing was done) is the climax of rumors that have been doing the rounds ever since the 18-year set the world's fastest time of 1:56.72 in a low key meeting in Mauritius recently.

I have been quite silent on the issue, and will continue to do so because at this point, there is nothing but rumor to go on, with no confirmed (and independent) facts. In the days after her 1:56 time, it was widely reported/speculated that Semenya was born a hermaphrodite (having both male and female reproductive organs), and that she was cleared by testing done by Athletics South Africa (ASA). In the last few days, it has emerged that she was in fact tested, twice, by her provincial athletics federation, who are claiming that the tests showed nothing unusual.

However, that does not yet constitute "proof" of anything (if there can ever be such a thing on a matter like sex testing - more on that later). Semenya is therefore in a terrible situation. The latest reports are that ASA are saying that the IAAF did do testing, but that there are no grounds for disqualification, that the test results will take weeks to release and so she will run tonight.

The problem with the process: A foreseeable controversy

I am not sure how this helps anyone. ASA seem eager to let her run, regardless of consequences down the line (which is much the same as they did in the lead-in to the Championships). The problem we now have is that she may well go on to win this final (assuming she can run, in fact, in which case I expect her to win easily), and then weeks down the line, we may yet have a disqualification and a result overturned, depending on those results. The result therefore MAY be that the silver medalist is upgraded to gold, bronze to silver, and that fourth gets bronze. What a tragic sequence of events for all the athletes involved.

Then again, stopping her from running may be equally unfair, because the tests may show nothing, and she would have been denied a world title (or at least, a shot at it). It seems to me this was a problem that was foreseeable, and one that ASA, had they had their ducks in a row, would have been able to pre-empt.

Not new allegations

The fact of the matter is that these allegations are not new. They have followed Semenya for a few years. Therefore, there was ample time to verify sex (again, a difficult process) and clear the way for her to compete. There is no doubt however, that the question was always going to be raised in Berlin, that people would ask and scrutinize, and so good management and coaching would have seen this resolved BEFORE the Championships even began. Because it was not, we are sadly seeing that Semenya will be the loser in what might well become an ugly story. There is surely nothing more offensive than the question of a woman's sex - even a doping accusation does not come close.

However, the reality is that we (in SA, that is) have been so poorly equipped to deal with the controversy that this situation and the doubt is now inevitable. Just take for example the following quotes, from this article:

According to the media liaison of Athletics South Africa (ASA), Ethel Manyaka, ASA would not send an athlete to the World Championships if they were not certain about the participant’s gender. [Ross: Then why was Semenya sent to begin with? How could you be "certain" unless you had done comprehensive testing on her? And "comprehensive testing" means genes, hormones, physical anatomy, psychology, internal medicine - see below. To imply that ASA was certain of her sex is to imply that she had been comprehensively tested, which she was not]

"President of ASA, Leonard Cheuene, knows something like that will create a huge controversy. How are we going to do it besides asking her to show us her private parts?” quipped Manyaka.

And then this one, from her coach:

Seme (the coach) added that when they stopped at a petrol station in Cape Town recently and Semenya entered the female toilets, the petrol attendants prevented her from doing so because they were convinced she was a man.

“Caster just laughed and asked if they would like her to take off her pants to show them she was a woman,” said Seme.

The realities of sex testing - an enormously complex question

These quotes betray absolutely no understanding of the complexities of this sex determination test, so let me try, very briefly (I will do a full and detailed explanation of the issues at a later time) to explain the problem:

First of all, the difference between sex and gender must be clarified. In most cases they are used interchangeably, but this is incorrect. Gender refers to how an individual portrays and perceives him or herself---for example male or female. It is more of a social construct than a biological one. Sex, on the other hand, is biological, and that is the essence of the debate in this case, whether or not Semenya is of male or female sex, not gender. An individual can have male sex but female gender, and vice versa. For an enlightening and intelligent debate about this case, read the comments below. They represent a wide range of opinions from individuals of diverse backgrounds.

Following on from that, "private parts" do not alone constitute male or female. This is a rudimentary distinction, but does not acknowledge a range of developmental conditions that can cause male characteristics to develop without there needing to be male reproductive organs. The condition of pseudohermaphroditism is one where male organs develop in varying degrees, and so the absence of male organs is not proof of anything. The fact that ASA believe that "asking her to show us her private parts" will do the job suggests that they have little idea of the issues. In that case, the first quote above, regarding ASA being "certain" of her sex before sending her, is laughable. The only thing we can be certain of is that ASA have little understanding of the problem.

Second, even genetic testing cannot confirm male or female. In fact, it is so complex that to do proper sex determination testing, you have to take a multi-disciplinary approach, and make use of internal medicine specialists, gynecologists, psychologists, geneticists and endocrinologists. I am afraid that dropping your pants is not proof at all.

But, if due diligence had been followed, they'd know that, and maybe this controversy could have been prevented. For the IAAF, the leak that saw the story reported the day before the 800m final is a great concern, and a situation that should have been avoided. ASA, for their part, cannot have known her sex with any certainty, unless they believed that a simple observation was sufficient. However, you can, within 30 seconds on Google, discover that it is not. The moment she ran 1:56, and was destined to challenge for gold in Berlin, this controversy was going to happen. "Certain"? No way, and therefore, using ASA's own criteria (which perhaps only apply in one direction), Semenya never had a chance...

Wait on judgment, it's all still rumor

The reality is that we don't know whether Semenya is "entirely female" (to quote from reports on the IAAF ruling). We must wait before delivering judgment, because it's unfair on her to condemn her based on rumor. However, rumor might well have been prevented, and we could have avoided much of this current drama, had things been managed correctly from the start. Sadly, the value of expertise has never been fully recognized within ASA (a personal opinion, based on my experiences with them, I have to add).

Caster Semenya is in a dreadful situation, and I hope it works out well for her. Time will tell. But please, let's wait before "reaching a verdict"


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DrTim said...

Yes, really well said Ross. It is a terrible situation for Caster.

On a lighter note, was watching triple jump last night and saw that Jonathan Edwards' WR of 18.29m had stood since 1995. That's almost 15 years. And Sotomayor's high jump WR of 2.45 in 1993 looks pretty safe too. Have you done a story on longevity of field WRs?

Also, curious as to your theories on why no-one is even close to Edward's WR ... Idowu's winning jump was 17.73m (albeit taking off 20cm short of the board). That's something like 3% off it.

DrTim said...

Oh, and of course Mike Powell's 8.95m long jump WR from 1981 but it looks like guys are getting close to that again with 8.73 SB from last year (-2.5%).

So basically a comparison of SB/WR for each field event would be cool ...

DrTim said...

3rd time lucky!

... and of course I'll be cheering for Blanka Vlasic to break the 22 year old women's high jump WR of 2.09 ... she did 2.06/2.07 last two years.

Ross Tucker and Jonathan Dugas said...

hi Tim

Thanks for the post.

Yes, the field events are fascinating. It actually reminded me of an email I got a while ago, from someone in California, and he'd pulled out the best long jump performances ever, and it turns out that only one performance from the 90s was in the list - every other one was from the 1980s. Quite amazing.

I don't know the reason, or the reason for the current WR being so "long lasting". I can't see how doping would affect it - Edwards seemed the least likely to dope I've ever seen! (that's little proof, of course) Maybe he was just an astonishing athlete, like Bolt is now (assuming Bolt is not doped, and based on the comments to recent posts, that is contentious, obviously!)

So I honestly don't know. The same is true for the women, and co-incidentally, Kravets' WR was set at the same meeting as Edwards'. Interesting.

We'll see if Vlasic gets the High Jump record. I think she jumps too much, and if she backed off, she might. The German girl might well beat her to it!


Anonymous said...

"Yes, the field events are fascinating. It actually reminded me of an email I got a while ago, from someone in California, and he'd pulled out the best long jump performances ever, and it turns out that only one performance from the 90s was in the list - every other one was from the 1980s."

Plus one from 1968.


DrG said...

Edwards (like Bolt) was physically unusual for his event. He was quite slight and (I would guess) had a much higher strength-weight ratio than most triple jumpers. He was also exceptionally quick over 30m (apparently faster than Linford Christie and Colin Jackson on training camps). Technically, he was far less power-based than most jumpers and was able to sustain his speed through the phases so he looked rather like a skimming stone when jumping. His step phase was proportionally longer than average as well. I wouldn't put him up there with Bolt but he was certainly different to all that had come before (and since)

maryka said...

Just wondered if you could point me to a link or discussion on the what criteria the IAAF (or any association for that matter) uses to determine the sex of an athlete. I realise that genetic testing (whether someone is XX, XY, XXY, etc.) is not the full story, but how do they decide whether an athlete is, to quote you, "entirely female"? What specifically needs to be determined from "internal medicine specialists, gynecologists, psychologists, geneticists and endocrinologists" to find out if an athlete is male or female? (Pyschologists??)

It's a bit of a slippery slope in any case, when you think of the fact that top athletes in general have superior genetics that give them an "advantage" over their competitors, whether that's Michael Phelps' insanely big feet and double-jointed ankles, or Lance Armstrong's long femur size. That's part of what makes them top athletes, correct? If an internal medicine specialist needs to examine Caster Semenya in order to decide whether she's eligible to compete as a woman or not, maybe we need to look at whether Andy Roddick's flexible spine and hence extremely fast serve isn't indeed some kind of unfair genetic advantage -- maybe he should only be allowed to compete against similarly flexibly-backed athletes? Yes, it's a ridiculous example to make my point: when it comes to what genetic advantages an athlete was born with, and how those advantages are classified, how do you decide how much is too much? I'm not talking about Oscar Pistorius here of course.

By the way, 100% agreed that ASA needed to be on top of this long before Berlin. It's their job to look after their athletes, anticipate problems and be pro-active in warding off controversy, and at that they have failed miserably. And as you said, it's the athletes who will suffer because of it.

DrTim said...

Thanks for the reply Ross. Ok, so it would be great to see a similar analysis that you did for the swimming WRs to the field WRs.


Pole Vault by Bubka in 1994 still stands ... in fact I cant think of any that have been broken recently? Discus, 1986. Javelin, 1996. Shotput, 1990. Hammer, 1986.

There is something going on here???


Anonymous said...

Yes, well Said Ross. I just wish the media would take more of an approach along these lines before producing headlines 5 minutes after this story getting out saying 'She's a MAN!'. It is disgraceful, though sadly is how many in the modern world work and think.
Thank you for your article, I just hope people read this before turining to the tabloids.
I hope the situation works out for the athlete, but you are right in that this could have easily been avoided.

enimra said...

This is an appalling and humiliating situation for the poor girl that should never have happened.

At the end of the day it's really harsh on everyone who has had any gender issues too. Is a girl with AIS automatically excluded from competitive sport? She may be XXY but that's irrelevant to her perceived and physical gender and indeed in some ways precludes her being doped by steroid means.

God willing they will let her run and have a career. Society is very cruel to those who do not fall neatly into the gender binary.

Anonymous said...

Well said maryka. Undeniably, genetics often advantage one athlete over another. The “playing field” may be “level”, but the bodies are not. Analysis to the point of employing mental health professionals to assist in “determining" an athlete’s gender is a bit over the top. Assuming no surgical alterations, presence (or lack) of the right body parts ought to be dispositive. Crudely put as it seems, the “drop the pants” test resolves analogously to Occam's razor. I.e., when faced with two competing tests to determine the same question, the simpler one is better.

Anonymous said...

So, let me get this straight. If science resolves that Caster is neither "all female" nor "all male", is she likewise ineligible to participate as a male in a sport where being female may provide an advantage, e.g. gymnastics?

Ross Tucker and Jonathan Dugas said...

Hi All

Just some quick responses:

First, to Maryka:

I'm trying to get hold of these criteria, but they are very difficult. As i tried to point out in the post, the actual test is so complex that five experts (at least) are used, and they often don't agree with one another. It's massively contentious.

But I'm trying to find it and as soon as I know, I will post it for everyone to read.

To the second last anonymous poster:

You need to be careful about over-simplifying it, because you're making the same mistake the officials of Athletics SA are making. Occum's razor does not apply here - you are missing the whole point. Genetics may confer an advantage, that is undeniable (I could never run 10km in 27 minutes, for example), but this is very different from that.

So to both Maryka and you, be careful about applying "genetics" to this argument. There is merit in it, and maryka has made the point correctly. But I feel that you're oversimplifying, when you say simpler is better, because it's not when it comes to sex determination.

Related to that, having a psychologist as part of the test is most definitely NOT over the top - it's vital, in fact, because what they are trying to establish there is whether the person's perceptions (gender) match with the physiology. Also, because it's so sensitve and potentially offensive, the psychologist is absolutely vital.

Again, to repeat, the tendency is default into "simplify", but you simply cannot. If you do, you will falsely exclude people, and falsely allow people to compete.

And on that note, I must just emphasise that if someone can be proven to have a condition that gives them secondary male characteristics and hence performance advantages, they should not be allowed to compete. It's as simple as that.

So while for now, I am saying let's wait and see, if the evidence does come back and Semenya is shown to have secondary male characteristics, then she should not be allowed to compete. If she is, and if the test is accurate (and herein lies the crux), then I can assure you, she will be winning races by 4 to 6 seconds...and that is equally unacceptable to everyone else.

So, while I'm advocating caution here, I must just point out that these tests exist for a reason, and if they show something, then preventing her from running would be the right thing to do.

Unfortunately, in the world of sport, one can't simply ask what is in the best interest of this one athlete - there are other athletes affected by it.


Unknown said...

I would like to raise a few points:

1. I agree that Caster doesn't look "all" female, but she is definitely not alone in that category. Quite a few of the 100/200m women also look more male than female. Have they all been tested?

2. It doesn't sound like there is anything that distinctly determines gender. If these "male" attributes can be so well hidden then I have to ask again: Why are other athletes not tested?

3. An outcome based on the opinion of a mental analyst is not a scientific one. They might as well disqualify her because she doesn't look like a female. Take any other female athlete to enough metal analysts and you WILL find one that says the athlete has some male attributes.

4. What about older records like that of Joiner in the 100 and 200m. Maybe they should consider making them void because she also looked and ran like she had male attributes...

The "pants" test should be enough to allow here to compete (sex changes excluded). Anything else opens up a can of worms and if you eventually take it far enough will disqualify 90% of the current top athletes for genetics abnormalities.

Anonymous said...

Dear Ross

Great report as usual… I am sure that I am about to belabor the obvious…My apologies for redundancy if applicable.

The case of Caster Semenya is classic FUBAR b/c this is not a new speculation. So instead of her NGB (National Governing Body) doing some preemptive testing. They allow Semenya to proceed to the world championship untested.

So the outcomes run as follows:

1. She competes, wins, the tests are negative, all is good.*

2. She competes, wins, the tests are postive, all is bad b/c not only is she stripped of a medal, but runners, 2, 3 and 4, become 1, 2, and 3 after the fact.

Specifically, they don’t get to take the medal stand after the event but get their rewards later. (Ask Óscar Pereiro after getting the TDF victory after Landis was stripped of the title.)

3. She is denied competing, the results are negative, and she is robbed of a chance of sporting success.

4. She is denied competing, the results are positive, all is good.*

5. (probably something I am not accounting for)

* The reason for the asterisk is that all is not good as a young athlete is being dragged through the press, behind the back whispers, and what are likely vociferous bouts of finger pointing and name calling when all that had to occur was for a few “responsible adults” (See NGB comments) to preempt the whole thing with testing.

Regardless of the outcome, what we end up dealing with is a young person whose love of running is let down by a system that ought to know better.

Sadly, even if Caster’s test is negative, she will now have to carry the stigma of the question throughout the rest of her career.

At the end of the day, this is a situation that could have been avoided and is now a media circus.

It’s really a shame…


jpnairn said...

If Caster Semenya is deemed "not entirely female" that does not exclude "her" from competing against other men.
It isn't "her" fault she was born different, but neither is it the fault of "entirely female" women who work very hard to make their female bodies perform amazing athletic feats.

Anonymous said...

As a layperson (in fact someone who pulled a muscle lying on the sofa watching these athletics!), my question is probably naive...but surely all athletes are tested for raised testosterone....if she doesn't have it, then why does it matter...surely equal testosterone levels create a level playing field?

Unknown said...

Well, she ran and she won... now for the microscopes and probes.
The main thing for me was that no other competitor came over and congratulated her. ZIP! Shocking, even if they don't trust her status.

Anonymous said...

The sport management might be a bit "slow" but I can assure you, that our medical facilaties available for sports is above standards, why does the world have tunnel vision regarding South Africa. If she is disqualified, it will be because of the desperation from ASA to get some medals.

Ross Tucker and Jonathan Dugas said...

To the last anonymous poster:

You're right, but I'm not criticizing the medical experts or facilities at all.

I'm in South Africa, I'm very much part of those medical facilities and that infrastructure, and so I'm well aware - I can only assume you are also part of it? However, I don't have tunnel vision, I think it's unfair to suggest that - nobody, at any stage on this blog, has condemned the whole of SA - I am speaking very specifically about ASA and the management systems we have for sport.

The problem here is the co-ordination and management of the necessary expertise to do the testing at the level required. It's a management issue, not a medical one. Five experts who are world-leading would be completely useless in the absence of a proper management system - risk management, strategic planning, scenario building, risk and issue tracking, athlete welfare management, etc etc.

That's what I'm referring to, and I'd challenge anyone to show me that ASA (not the whole of SA - I think you're generalizing a little there too) could do that.


Unknown said...

Congratulations Caster! You are the world champion.

Not only have you managed to beat the next best 800m runners in the world by a huge margin, but you've overcome a great psychological challenge. You remind me of the great Maria Mutola.

I hope and prey that you won't one day have to tell your sons and daughters that their mother's gold medal was taken from her because she was deemed not be a women.

Shame on the commentators and the other athletes for not giving credit where it is due. They should be tested to determine if they are really human...

The Anonymous Chef said...

I have to be honest, some of the ignorant and uninformed comment that has been published here is disappointing to say the least. The only thing that affects overall strength is the presence of testosterone, but the presence of testosterone is not of nessecity an indicator of 'maleness'. If Caster identifies as female, lives as a female and trains in the same way as comparable female athletes and is drug free,that should be the end of it. When is 'the gender issue' going to be consigned to history in regard to the 'human' condition.

Weekly NFL Picks said...

This is so embarrassing for her regardless. If she is a girl or if she didn't know she used to be guy, really horrific for this person.

Ross Tucker and Jonathan Dugas said...

Hi Dirk and Gareth

Thanks for the thoughts. I have to disagree though with how you are suggesting that it's only testosterone that differentiates men and women - if you take your argument one step further, then we should abolish the two divisions altogether and race "open". So while I respect your opinion, I think that to accuse others of being ignorant and uninformed is also uncalled for.

I think that the problem exists in that we divide the population into two, and then somehow assume that each part is roughly equal, which is of course not true. Not all men are as strong as Reese Hoffa or as fast as Usain Bolt. Similarly, there is no basis for saying that all women are "equal" either, and certainly testosterone is part of that difference.

However, there comes a point at which a distinction must be made. And I am reminded that this distinction exists because of cheating by athletes, and because before it was in place, people did try to buck the system. So nobody is saying that the presence of testosterone is the indicator of maleness. For one thing, it is more complex than that - if all it took was testosterone, then the doped women of East Germany would be much closer to the men, but they're still 10% down. Why? Because "male" and "female" is more than just one chemical.

So I think everyone on this forum has expressed very valid point of views, none are ignorant - you might want to check out some of the chat rooms tonight though!

Then to Dirk, I can see your point (and your earlier ones, thank you for those), but one must be careful to adopt a blanket approach and condone Semenya. As I said above, if it can be shown that she has secondary male characteristics, then preventing her from competing is 100% fair. Remember, there is currently a woman out there who could have been a world champion, but is not, and she doesn't know whether that's deserved or not. Similarly, other women compete on what is supposed to be an equal playing field, and this is threatening that.

So to repeat what I said earlier, we must wait for facts, but if those facts confirm that she has substantial male characteristics (according to independent and objective standards), then a ban is the right thing to do.


P.S. DIrk, I will try to answer those four questions from earlier in another reply shortly


middle aged mid packer said...

This is awful. She is *eighteen* - barely an adult. (I suppose crucially she is young enough and I am old enough to think, "She could be my daughter", and feel actually quite angry at how this has been handled).

On the one hand we see a great many athletes who - how can I put this - look *nothing like* the strongest and fastest people in my local area, although they used to, and who do, however, look like past athletes who were busted for doping.

On the other hand you get this kid who does (we all agree) look like a boy, and runs as fast as one too. But her case boils down to 3 possibilities, roughly:
a) just looks like a boy but that's the end of it
- in which case, the athletics authorities have made an unfortunate situation much worse
b) thinks she is a girl, was raised as a girl, has some "interesting" biological stuff going on that means, actually, it's not that clear-cut
- in which case ditto!
c) is a boy but was pressured into running as a girl
- in which case both the adult(s) concerned and the athletics authorities take (I think) the vast burden of responsibility
d) is a boy and entirely of "his" own volition decided to run as a girl
- seems v.v. unlikely! but, in which case, you can only imagine the happy home life that would inspire *that* sort of decision!

Bottom line, a terrible failure to protect a vulnerable young person. Pretty shameful. But I don't think ASA should be singled out - it strikes me as the sort of f***up that national athletics associations everywhere specialize in (no surprise that the real elite athletes tend to keep their distance and have their own support structures in).

Frans Rutten said...

Clearly a worst-case scenario for the IAAF and for Caster Semenya. Although after seeing her behave, I don't pity her anymore. I should be not surprised is she doesnt' give a ....

One thing striked me very much as I Googled a couple of days for half an hour. I got the impression from some communications that there was already a champion in the making even when she was still in a position that hundreds or thousands (all time) were in.

Michal said...

Well Gareth, the reasons you mentioned for eligibility to compete as a woman are pointless. Can anyone tell me why it isn't sufficient to define a woman only by female chromosomes? I mean, the chromosomes define everything else that makes men athletically stronger then women, don't they? After seeing the race, considering her appearance, age and improvement this year, I must admit that I don't believe at all that she will pass that gender test. Feel sorry for her.

Anonymous said...

I think the comment by an earlier poster that "Quite a few of the 100/200m women also look more male than female" is a little disingenuous.

There is a world of difference between a female athlete who is muscular and a male athlete. Regardless of muscular development females still retain a recognizable female physiology due to gender specific skeletal differences.

Obviously physical appearance is in no way proof of anything but what strikes me regarding this particular athlete is, ignoring the developed musculature, the lack of any physical female traits.

Having just watched her win the final by a huge margin it was striking that non of her fellow competitors congratulated her and she was quickly "whisked away" by IAAF officials. There is obviously open animosity towards her which cannot be good for all concerned.

In my opinion no athlete should be allowed to take part in a major world competition if there is any doubt of any kind regarding there eligibility. The media circus as world events means everything is scrutinized to the n-th degree, speculation becomes rife and we see the sort of tabloid headlines we have at present.

In these circumstances nobody comes out of this with any credit.

Anonymous said...

Congratulations to Caster.

I am in Scotland and have absolutly no vested interest in the story butI can't help but wonder why the news of gender testing has been announced?? They do not announce who they are testing for banned substances, they only announce names after both samples provided have tested positive so why on earth should we be in this situation.

I also feel incredibly sorry for Caster, yes she is not the most feminine looking of atheletes but she is not alone in that. Caster has been raised female, I presume her birth certificate lists her sex as female therefore she is female all this 'wholly female' or 'completly female' smacks of an excuse to disqualify a great young talent. Will all female competitors now be subjected to the same tests to determine their eligibility to compete?

LED said...

I liked what maryka had to say, but I think the truth lies closer to jpnarin's point. Being born with a large heart and strong muscles should not exclude you from sports, but as long as people make a distinction between men’s and women’s sports, people who aren’t “entirely” female should not be allowed to compete with the women. It’s like weight classes in wrestling or age groups in other competitions. There may well be a gifted 10 year old who can outrun me in a marathon somewhere, and while he should definitely be allowed to race with the adults, I don’t think it’s fair that I should get to race with the 10 year olds, even if I’m short and look young for my age. Classifications are there to even the playing field precisely so that the gifted athletes ARE allowed to shine. It would be unfair to the great female 800 runners out there if a man was allowed to compete with them, and depending on where you draw the line between male and female (still a question here) letting Caster run may be just that.
Like it or not, gender is almost universally used to divide sports. There are some great female athletes who can compete with men in team sports, and there are some sports where women can do things men can not, but in general men’s times are faster, their teams better. You wouldn’t expect even a GREAT 100 lb wrestler to take on a mediocre 250 lb wrestler and have a fighting chance, but don’t mistake the different divisions for exclusion of the “gifted” big guy. They are there to give the little guy a chance to shine.

Timmy said...

I agree. If one has a sex change operation he/she should not be banned from sports just because the operation. I think its a little far out that male athletes would start changing them selves females only to achieve something. In other hand it would definetly be a little strange to see some one winning lets say a world title as both male and female.

And just wondering.. how is it possible that Caster Semenya is not aware of her sex herself? If you claim to be something else that you are disqualifations are fair atleast in my opinion.

Ross Tucker and Jonathan Dugas said...

To Dirk, just to respond to your earlier questions, because they were good points:

1. I agree that Caster doesn't look "all" female, but she is definitely not alone in that category. Quite a few of the 100/200m women also look more male than female. Have they all been tested?

I think another poster has kind of addressed this (anonymous). I can tell you that they don't test unless someone files a protest, or there is grounds to test. They used to do testing on ALL women, but stopped that (rightly) because it was so degrading. So now, as I understand, it takes a protest to initiate testing.

2. It doesn't sound like there is anything that distinctly determines gender. If these "male" attributes can be so well hidden then I have to ask again: Why are other athletes not tested?

as mentioned above, there are secondary male characteristics (and big muscles is not one of them) that are first identified. Not all these women have them. Then, add to this the protest (to ensure equality, in principle) and you have a tested athlete.

3. An outcome based on the opinion of a mental analyst is not a scientific one. They might as well disqualify her because she doesn't look like a female. Take any other female athlete to enough metal analysts and you WILL find one that says the athlete has some male attributes.

I think you're misunderstanding the mental side here. It's not a diagnosis, the psychologist is part of the team that does the evaluation, and it is a crucial component. I can't go into massive detail, and I'd be speaking out of turn anyway, but I think you're misunderstanding what the mental analyst (actually, a psychologist, which is different) does. It's a critical part of it.

4. What about older records like that of Joiner in the 100 and 200m. Maybe they should consider making them void because she also looked and ran like she had male attributes...

Good point. But was there any evidence to suspect a sex determination problem? Or was it a drug related one? I'd say it was the latter, and that Flo-Jo was never doubted for being a woman, but was rumored to be a doper. Big difference.


Unknown said...


I have read everyone's comments and have to echo those who have expressed sadness at the very unsportsmanlike behaviour displayed by the other athletes this evening. Regardless of whatever controversy is brewing, it saddens me no end that this young girl has been treated with such mistrust and disdain.

That said, she's probably more emotionally strong than any of those other athletes as I imagine she's had to deal with gossip and slurs her whole life, so it shouldn't come as such a surprise that this media attention hasn't affected her performance.

She does look like a man.. but it's just because she's winning that it's a problem. If she was losing we'd all just say 'oh, what an ugly girl, and she's a loser too.'

Here's a link to a picture of her looking distinctly feminine. Also, and please don't take this as racist, but she has very rounded buttocks which can be attributed to her race or just to the fact that she's female. Just a thought, use it don't use it.

Unknown said...

Sorry, forgot the link:)


maryka said...


Thanks for hosting a great conversation on this topic. Chat rooms are pretty much the last place I'd like to be to discuss this; flame wars and trolls not my thing. :)

You keep referring to "secondary male characteristics" and since we've already discussed hormones (testosterone being the major one) and the genitalia ("the pants test"), what would those characteristics be that would prove/disprove an athlete's sex? Surely the presence of facial hair, a strong jawline/forehead, etc. isn't enough?

I guess what bothers me about the whole gender testing thing in sport is that it leaves the athlete who "fails the test" in a miserable position. Not talking about deliberate cheating here, but someone who believes she is female, was born and raised and socialised as such. There's no way she's going to be able to compete against men. Yet she's not allowed to compete as a woman either, due to some arbitrary standard that she doesn't meet. What to do? Fairness to other athletes aside, is it in the spirit of sport to ban her? I don't know.

One thing I do know, as a cyclist I wish I could have had Olympic champions/pros for parents the way that Taylor Phinney does. Not really fair to the fellows he's competing against, is it, that's he's got such a great advantage over them? But there it is. And so it is with Semenya. The "woman out there who could have been a world champion, but is not" might just have to accept the reality that she was unfortunate enough to be in her prime at the same time Semenya was. Life is unfair, why should sport try to be unrealistically fair to compensate?

Mike H said...

>she was quickly "whisked away" by IAAF officials.<
Reuters - 'Officials also decided to keep Semenya away from the traditional post-race news conference.'
They had already seen some of the media comments and were trying to protect the athlete from intrusive media questioning, particularly by the Tabloids who are more interested in the headline/'story'.

Ross Tucker and Jonathan Dugas said...

Hi Maryka

No problem, thank you for contributing to the discussion.

Primary sex characteristics are the reproductive organs, necessary for reproduction. I guess depending the context, secondary characteristics are those which result from 'being male' but which are not directly linked to reproductive function. Bone structure, increased size and strength of muscles, facial hair, body fat distribution - all would fall into this category. Many of them would confer a performance advantage.

Now, you make a good point about whether they would be enough to bar an athlete from participating. No, by themselves, they wouldn't, as far as I know. However, their source (some genetic development issue that causes levels of testosterone that would be associated with males) would be, and that's where this gets very dicey indeed.

I can tell you're hungry and needing to know some facts, and so I can only repeat my last response - I'm trying to get hold of as much info as I can, so that I can post it properly. I'm at a conference at the moment, away from the office, so I can't sit down with a good few hours and pull together things that would answer your questions! But I'll try in the future some time.

The thing about genetics, I think was responded to quite well by LED higher up. You make a really good point, it's the crux of the argument, but I guess like LED, I still think a line must be drawn to divide people into categories. And Semenya, and others like her, challenge where that line should be. I would maintain that if she is found to possess male characteristics as a result of an identifiable condition, related to the genes, or hormones, then that constitutes something quite different from having athletic parents like Phinney did. But, the fact is, it's a grey area...


meliasso said...

Interesting posts. The T&F authorities have done a great disservice to Caster and the other 800m runners by not clearing this up before the WC. As I see it the complexity here is to what extent organs respond to male hormones. This will differ between females, hence some look more masculine than others. The default pathway for organ development is female. In Caster's case my guess is that she has a Y chromosome and muscles that respond to male hormones like a male would but reproductive organs that are insensitive to male hormones. Hence, female like genitalia.

An easy rule would be to say if you have a Y chromosome compete as male. If you are XX or XO compete as female. If you are a chimera with some cells XX and some cell XY, also compete as a male. That would be easy to check, and take hours not weeks.

Trying to determine, like they are likely to do with Caster, how much someone's with a Y chromosome organs respond to male hormones is tricky.

Anonymous said...

It is 100% correct that ASA needed to be on top of this long before Berlin. It's their duty to look after their athletes, anticipate problems and be pro-active in warding off controversy. Subsequently, they have failed!

But it is not only the athletes who will suffer because of it but the sport...is track and field going the way of professional wrestling? If this type of controversy continues, the credibility and integrity of the sport will decline.

meliasso said...

I agree Anonymous. T&F will hurt from this. Seeing the poor attendance in the stadium. I think T&F, as you said, is increasingly viewed as a cheat or freak show.

Anonymous said...

Wow! What a circus. First Oscar P with his artificial Cheetah legs and now Caster S who may or may not be a woman. Did you ever imagine? What will be next? A four legged man from SA beats Bolt in next year's 100m race and everyone questions whether he is human! Conversation about doping seems now tame and somewhat passe.

I agree it is too early to draw a conclusion from a rumor so it isn't fair to comment on Caster, but why does SA seem to invite such controversy? Isn't it really the ASA whose reputation is on the line and how does this end well for them? The Carter controversy is not a surprise and should have been handled ahead of time. Either she is guilty and the ASA is asleep at the switch or she is innocent and the ASA did not take steps to shield one of their best athletes from a horrible ordeal. Does the certain publicity outweigh everything else? Shame on the ASA.

parmijo said...

I didn't see this posted, but regarding secondary sex characteristics, this Caster Interview is enlightening:

Anonymous said...

I believe that the IOC still allow transsexual people to compete as their chosen sex after their ruling in 2004?

In the event that Caster is proved to not be male enough for the IAAF, might the IOC still welcome her to compete in London or do I not understand the relationship between the two bodies well enough?

Anonymous said...


A quagmire which as aforementioned has been undoubtedly poorly managed by all involved.

I was doing some research this evening and found that Santhi Soundarajan an Indian athlete who also competed in the 800m was stripped of a silver medal won at the 2006 Asian Games after failing a gender verification test. So i assume that their are defined parameters as to what constitutes "entirely female". A quick question though, does the ability to bear children automatically qualify you as female enough. Of course their are myriad reasons why some females are unable to bear children, but from a technical standpoint would this factor be a determinant?

Also, why was there never any speculation about Maria Mutola? Semenya's physique is in many ways reminiscent of the great Mozambique athlete.

Also agree with a previous post, that the IAAF did not have to announce that they were testing, which would have at least made the media circus which has already started and is sure to ensue less of a damaging factor to Semenya's humanity and dignity.

meliasso said...

If you can bear children, I'd say definitely female.

But two problems: 1)many feamles are not able to bear children. 2) Not a "simple test" to do.

My vote would still be XX / XO - race with women. Everyone else race with men.

edb said...

Thanks Ross, an excellent article. I'm thinking back to the days before scientific testing and Jarmila Kratochvílová
or going further back to Stalislawa Walasiewicz.
Even if the tests come back as a women, Semenya's still going to be competing under a cloud.

Anonymous said...

Donovan Said...
OK, I'll admit 3 years ago I couldn't careless. But now, I have a 3 year old Daughter and all I wish for her is optimum fulfillment in this life and to help her prepare for what comes after. As far as I am concern the media was more excited about a good story than a being concern for the wellbeing of this young lady. Your public report on the matter before hearing the facts has done irrepairable damage to this kid. How about humanity over a dollar. Finally let's not make this about Race these Games are supposed to help fight against such ignorance.

Anonymous said...

Hi all,

The saddest aspect of all is that people have forgotten that she is a human being. She is only 18 and probably not equipped to deal with the difficulties she is about to go through.

She is not a scientific experiment regardless of how interesting thee subject is. I would put the blame for this with all parties not just the ASA but also the IAAF. They could have released the story after the event. It would not have made any difference either way! All that has happened is that she ran a good race and could not enjoy the fact that she had won a gold medal.

I really hope that she is fine once all of this blows over!


Anonymous said...

So why does 'she' have a boy's name? Google 'Caster' and you will see it is not a girl's name.

Orshee said...

I agree with Justine. "She does look like a man.. but it's just because she's winning that it's a problem. If she was losing we'd all just say 'oh, what an ugly girl, and she's a loser too.' "<---THAT'S THE ROBLEM. we are the guilty, and not HER. cos if she lose this race, it didn't care anybody wheter she's a man or not.

Unknown said...


Thanks for your comments. I might have exaggerated in saying that some other female athletes look more like men than women, but the point is that if Caster had a different hair style then she would not look more "male" than some of the other female athletes around.

I agree with the previous poster who wanted to know why the IAAF made this public.

The thing that really concerns me is that this is clearly a grey area and open to manipulation/interpretation. No female athlete should be disqualified unless it can be proven beyond ANY doubt that she is partly male. Any disqualification based on anything but exact science is corrupt.

As a spectator I would be satisfied that she is a women if she doesn't have male genitalia and she didn't have an operation. For me the ultimate test would be to know if she can have children. It is as simple as that: Women have children, men don't. I fail to understand why we have to look for answers in science which admittedly doesn't know everything about the human body when the answer is so simple. I believe that most other spectators feel the same. Maybe we should have a poll to see how many people prefer a natural decision (female genitalia, can have babies) versus complex (grey) scientific tests.

S said...

As the friend of a intersex person (a "hermaphrodite") I feel lucky to be a little more familiar with these concepts than some.

Society forces us into two genders when biologically this is sometimes just not applicable. I don't want to go into details of his condition but apart from a horrendous series of operations to make him more definitely one gender than another, there have been some administrative decisions made that cause him problems on a regular basis. All of this is because we feel the need to categorise gender in such a narrow way.

Unfortunately, unless we want to have a very small intersex category this will continue in sport, but to anyone who thinks "dropping your pants" proves anything, I'd just like to say there is more out there in the world than you could ever imagine. You're assuming that all genitals look roughly the same - what if someone has genitals that you can't quite tell are male or female? Or male genitals but breasts and a feminine frame and no Adam's apple? Try googling intersex, you may be surprised, but I hope not horrified.

As for Caster, after seeing the behaviour of the other athletes I'd just like to give her a hug.

Anonymous said...

Re: maryka -

"...maybe we need to look at whether Andy Roddick's flexible spine and hence extremely fast serve isn't indeed some kind of unfair genetic advantage -- maybe he should only be allowed to compete against similarly flexibly-backed athletes?"

No need to do that, because we don't separate tennis players into different categories based on the flexibility of their back. But we do separate athletes by gender, so whenever there is a doubt there needs to be testing to establish gender.

Similarly, the huge size of shot putters gives them an advantage over smaller athletes, but there is no need to weigh them because they are not separated into weight divisions. Whereas boxers do compete in different weight divisions, so it is necessary to weigh them.

parmijo said...

Gender determination is much like age determination. What is her true age? (Chinese gymnast?). What is her true sex? (Caster?). Unfortunately there is no objective measurement but just an interpretation by experts based on numerous data points.
The ability to bear children only measures fertility, not necessarily gender. All humans that can bear children are female, but not all females can bear children.
Clearly she has strong masculinization not only in her physiology but also in secondary characteristics, especially her voice. Whether this masculinization is endogenous or exogenous is probably the next natural question.

Unknown said...

"Similarly, the huge size of shot putters gives them an advantage over smaller athletes, but there is no need to weigh them because they are not separated into weight divisions. Whereas boxers do compete in different weight divisions, so it is necessary to weigh them."

Your comparison is not really relevant to the issue of scientific tests to determine gender. Weight can easily be measured exactly. That doesn't seem to be the case with these tests and gender.

This is more like having weight divisions for boxers, but using smell to determine the weight of a boxer while he is standing next to the scale...

I could even try to understand the need for scientific tests if she had male genitalia as well, but with only female genitalia and if she is probably able to have children then she was born a women.

Sam said...

What is going in is RSA? Pistorius and now this?

Lisa French said...

I can't imagine what Semenya must be going through, finding out that you may be part male must be horrific. This is why I think the athletes not congratulating Semenya is disgusting behaviour. I was glad to see Semenya win tonight despite what she must be going through. I think she should be congratulated for her victory, regardless of the outcome of the tests.

S said...

But Dirk, what if her genitalia are neither wholly male nor female? Not everyone is born in such a way.

Anonymous said...

I watched the race earlier with my family and earlier in the day at training had been told about this athlete's situation. I'm ashamed to say that the four of us looked for signs (ie a bulge) My point is that I don't believe that people, the general public, who will be reading the tabloids tomorrow, will be aware that "looks" aren't everything. Another contraversial point is perhaps age...many African athletes may not have correct birth certs? Some get them dated when baptized. Of course, in a senior competition, this is irrelevent. However in junior competitions, this is an important topic... Just thought I'd throw that in there... Love Isinbaeva 

S said...

Without wishing to cast apsersions on Caster and her identity, for anyone interested in why determining gender can be so complex, there is a very good article here:


Keiyla Renee said...

If the tests are THAT complicated to try to determine is someone is entirely male or entirely female, why is that determination so important? Where are we supposed to draw the line between men and women, if "secondary characteristcs" that aren't visible, count? What percentage of the overall population would fit into this third catagory of human, with the reporductive traits of one but some characteristics of the other? Isn't EVERYONE, on some level, a bit of both?

Let's say her condition, whatever it may be, enables her to run faster than other women, and that disqualifies her. Isn't that the point of contests like this? To find the best, the fastest, the strongest? Some genetic trait in EACH athelete, whether it's determination, persistance, grit and drive, or physical strength, length of legs, whatever... enables them to perform better than everyone else. Who decides which trait determines disqualification, if it simultaneously provides some measure of superior physical adeptness? Is it right that someone is disqualified because she has more testosterone than normal, while another athlete... a male figure skater, for example.. is deemed worthy despite elevated estrogen levels??

How DOES being gay fit into this, anyway, since being homosexual is, scientifically and technically, also a matter of being not "entirely" of one gender or another, if we're discussing secondary traits and not reproductive ones?

Tito Calvio said...

She totally looks like a male. I don't really think she should be running with women.

Anonymous said...

IAAF have a protocol to deal with this...I had a look at it yesterday, and I can't see how it is ASA's responsibility to do anything differently from that.

It may not be the ideal...but that's what IAAF's stance is.

It is not even as clear cut as the gender you are born with. For example if an athlete has gender reassignment pre puberty then they can compete as a woman. After puberty and a period of two years, they can compete.

The question is not gender at all...it is a matter of whether there are advantages that could only be due to being male.

...and btw, Ross I thought that gender was the biological term and sex was the social thing :)

Skokomish said...

From Page 50 of Track and Field: The East German Textbook of Athletics Intersex Types and Sex Controls

"It is wrong to believe that the limit between the male and the female sex is completely plain and easy to determine. There are, on the contrary, transitional forms which are recognized by a more or less marked difference of the sexual cells, the exterior and interior genitals and all exterior sex characteristics; these forms physiological science has attempted to classify. These intermediate sex types have become known in sport. They are physically superior to ordinary women and their participation in female competition entails a real disadvantage for ordinary women. For this reason sex chromatine determination tests have been introduced which, beginning in Mexico-City, are compulsory for all women performers..." "...This chromatine check has given good results, but there are also intermediate types which, according to the nucleus, are female or could be assigned to either sex. In such cases much more complicated examination of the chromosome stock have to be carried out. Only thus can real disadvantages for other female athletes be avoided."

The East Germans were a lot of things, but they weren't ignorant. This situation is a lot more complex than people suppose, I think. One hopes they lay off the kid, who (despite quite an arrogant attitude towards her competitors) is almost certainly not cheating in any conscious way. It's entirely likely that athletics was until recently a refuge for her.

Anonymous said...

This is absurd. Test everyone or test no one. If it's based upon characteristics outside of physical reproductive organs, than everyone should be tested.

A traditionally feminine appearance may have characteristics that would appear on tests.

What qualifies as %100 female? What's %99 or %90? Where is the dividing line between?

Pychological testing? For what? Dominance, assertiveness, confidence? Sounds like a star athlete to me.

What qualifies as %100 male?

Will there be hybrid competitions now for anyone not "%100 male or %100 female"?

Anonymous said...

ALL of those women in that race look like men - big shoulders, narrow hips, cut muscles. That's the body type that makes a good runner, regardless of sex.

The fact is that Caster Semenya is only being tested for "entire femaleness" because she is such an amazing athlete. And, because of sexism, it is assumed to be some kind of an anomoly if a woman is a really incredble athlete. Male atheletes never have to undergo these humiliating tests.

And what if she proves to not be an "entire female". Where IS the place for athletes born with ambiguous sex, aka psuedohermaphodites or to use less archaic language - intersex people. Last statistic I heard was that 1 in every 1000 babies are born with ambiguous genitalia. That's a lot. And that's just genitalia, not to mention those born with chromosomal differences or hormonal differences.

Anonymous said...

This brings out a much larger controversy in sports competition: is there room for people who are not "entirely female" or "entirely male" to compete, and how on earth can you test such a thing and be fair about it? By now we all realize that there is a spectrum of possible gender identifications and sex, it's not as black and white as previously assumed.

Anonymous said...

"And, because of sexism, it is assumed to be some kind of an anomoly if a woman is a really incredble athlete. Male atheletes never have to undergo these humiliating tests."

It's not sexism, it's practical reality. Women are already allowed to compete in men's sports if they are good enough. Is it sexism that men aren't allowed to compete in women's divisions?

Women have competed on men's teams in sports like hockey, soccer, and even American football (as kickers). There is no need for anybody in a men's competition to prove gender, because all genders are allowed to compete in men's competitions (with a few exceptions, like if there are safety issues ... a boxing commissioner probably wouldn't allow a woman to fight in a men's division).

But it shouldn't take any explaining for somebody to understand why a man shouldn't be on a woman's team.

Char said...

One of the problems of determining sex by anything other than physical appearance is that the situation gets more and more complicated the further you look into it.

For example, what would you do with a person with Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome, who has XY chromosomes, an inability to bear children, no internal female sex characteristics and often has undescended testes. Clearly you would say this was male, however, people with AIS are often hyper-feminine, with a female body shape, and "voluptous" hips and breasts. They are, as the names suggests, insensitive to male hormones thus often (in the case of complete AIS) making them more female than "real" females. This is clearly NOT an athletic advantage, and to have these individuals forced to compete with males would clearly eliminate them from ever competing in athletics.

As intersexed athletes who have gone through the gender reassignment surgery are allowed to compete with their new gender, why then, should a woman, who lives as a woman, who has female genetalia not be allowed to compete? You say she garners an unfair advantage, but clearly that line is, and has to be an arbitrary one. If she has an unfair advantage because of raised testosterone levels, well clearly there are other women who have elevated testosterone levels as well. The difference in that fluctuates between different people and cannot be counted on as the only thing. So if her bones are stronger or muscles are larger, there would be other women who had that too. So where do you draw the line? Who decides how many "secondary male characteristics" causes you to be ineligible? Clearly there will always be people who fall just on one side of the line or the other who are going to be unfairly classified.

I have to agree with some of the other posters that say that sometimes you just have to say, perhaps there are some characteristics about her that give her an advantage, but she is clearly not fully male, and EVERY elite athlete has characteristics about them that give them an advantage. It's unfortunate to the other athletes that they were not born with those characteristics too (from an athletic perspective - I don't think any of them would want to be in her position really) but they weren't and since when is sport fair. I was born short, so I'll never be an elite basketball player, and I think that's not fair, but that's life. I wasn't born with any "male characteristics" either, but I don't begrudge those who were. If they are women (even not "wholely" according to your arbitrary definitions) and they are better than me at sport then they should win, in the female category.

Anonymous said...

If the lady menstruates and/or ovulates then surely that should be the end of the matter.If one can fall pregnant you should be classed as female. I could imagine that if the lady was to be banned now but become a mother at some future time then it could raise some very interesting legal implications - particularly if she was denied a world record.

Anonymous said...

If this is a qualification test, then all athletes should be tested. Why you ask? Well, if it's so god-awful important that athletes not be given unfair advantages based on sex, then everyone should be tested to ensure that such athletes with unfair sex advantages aren't already competing.

I understand that a qualification standard needs to be set, but it's not really a qualification standard if the rest of the athletes competing haven't been tested as well. What possible rationale can be given for not testing everyone?

Let's burn the straw men before they're erected:

Because some athletes are obviously female or male.

Wait, I thought we said it was a very complex, scientific process that required 5+ experts to determine? If that's the case, then the "looks like a duck, quacks like a duck" argument doesn't cut it. Either it is very difficult to determine and should be considered and applied as such, or it is not.

Because it's too time consuming and expensive to test all athletes

Well if that's the case, then there is something wrong with the testing process. If we've created a qualifying process that cannot be implemented across the board because it's impractical, then the process needs to be corrected.

Because only athlete's who are suspected should have to be tested

If that's the case, then there really is no qualification standard, because it's not being applied to everyone. And if it's not being applied to everyone, then how can anyone ever know if so-and-so won because they are the best or because they had an 'unfair advantage'?

Because it's humiliating

If it's being applied to every athlete across the board, then I don't see why anyone should feel humiliated. In fact, if no one is being singled out, then no one should feel humiliated. Also, if testing is so humiliating that it cannot be applied across the board, then something is flawed in the testing process.

Because only athletes with unbelievable/outlier results should be tested

This is by far the heaviest straw man, and borders on an actual argument. If we are only testing athletes who post unbelievable results, then this stifles actual competition. What athlete would want to do their best and post crazy-good results if they know that they will have to undergo testing which may or may not confirm their sex and preclude them from competing for good?

Another response to the last straw man is that "unbelievable results" can never be determined if all athletes are not tested. Perhaps the current records/top times are "unbelievable results" for genuine females because the athletes who posted them are not really female? If that is the case, then we're really not determining which 'female' athlete is the best/performs the best, we're just determining which athletes post results that fall within what we think is believable.

If anyone could give me a logical argument as to why such testing is not required of every athlete, that would be great. I have a suspicion it's because the results would be fraught with contradictions and grey areas, but obviously it's impossible to prove a negative.

However, it is possible to say confidently that the current testing procedure and implementation process in no way ensures that athletes with unfair sex advantages do not compete/are not competing and winning. And if that's the case, then why are we even bothering to keep score?

Anonymous said...

What a load of crap. People didn't say a word when Zola Budd or Elana Meyer were running. Why? Because they look (and are) like girls.
It is hypocritical to say "they are testing her because she is such a good athlete".

enimra said...

She may be 100% female and yet be or have been subjected to masculinisation in the womb or later. Judging by the interview with her on YouTube she acts butch as well which is hardly surprising given her physical appearance. Probably a self preservation mechanism learnt while growing up.

I think she's female amd possibly just a little masculinised before birth, possibly also an "out" butch lesbian which might explain the way the other girls shunned her: Homophobia.

Anonymous said...

I'm also curious to know whether an athlete who does prove to have interesex characteristics is then banned from competition in either of the two available gender categories.

Jason Stewart said...

Amongst multiple google searches this was the most well written, comprehensive and factual piece of reporting I encountered. Thank you for resolving what became a curiosity after seeing a sensational Yahoo headline. Good Work, I wish you well!

Anonymous said...

Seems to me that problem is that we have defined events as being for either male or female which it turns out in some cases is quite complex and not clearly defined. Given that particular male attributes may provide an advantage in competition, maybe the solution is to define which competition a competitor may enter based on such attributes.

donncha said...

Semi-hijack: Drs Tim/Ross/Jonathan, re: longevity of field records, I suppose it's a coincidence that IAAF introduced out-of-competition testing in 1988?

Anonymous said...

As an intelligent and perceptive sports fan, Caster is as much female as Muttiah Muralidaran and Johan Botha are legitimate bowlers in world cricket and not blatant chuckers.

We can get caught up in as much science and testing as we like; the point however, is that as a South African, I am left more with a sense of embarrassment watching "her" win than a sense of pride. But then again, I would not have voted for Jacob Zuma to be my President and 65% of the population can't be wrong.

andri nieuwoudt said...

Where can one get hold of a support-caster blog - and know she will see it! I read all these comments and am convinced most of the support here is possitive towards her. I am a gynecologist from The Netherlands and avail myself to help her. I cannot see why a uncomplicated case is made complicated. A male is a male because he have testes which produce testosterone. A female is a female because she has ovaries- these produce also testosterone, and also enzimes that convert the testosterone to estrogens The ovaries are under control of the pitiuatry gland which produce Follicle stimulating hormone (FSH0 - a hormone, together with progesterone which only females will ahave in abandance if there is no working ovaries. All one do is do the bloodlevels of FSH and Progesterone and the answer is out, add testosterone testing (especially DHEAS to include adrenal gland mulfunction) and this is available within hours.

Unknown said...

Based on what I have read here, I gather that absence of the male sex organ does not constitute female. So, with that being said, Shouldn't all the other athletes be tested as well? Typically, when we see breast we assume that it's female. So, isn't it possible that Seme ran against all men?

I think that there is an unjust blame being put on ASA. There are those who say that the testing was not done by them. If they so knew this to be true, why didn't this source come forward well before today? Although this athlete rose quickly, she didn't just come from nowhere. Early when she started showing signs of a promising career, I'm sure there were people buzzing about her. Any national or international entities should have been preparing then. She is an athlete who does what she does. Why must she take initiative to "head off" scandal to prove she is female. Have any of the the other runners proved they are NOT MALE? Just as you said lack of male organs does not prove female, presence of facial hair and deep voice do NOT prove male. I am so tired of accusations in the midst of defeat...

Anonymous said...

Dear Ross

Casters situation is indeed untenable. As a Urologist with experience in gender complications it is critical to hgihlight that what you say about the many specialists needed is really only relevant to gender reassignment. You did however forget the role of the Urologist who I might add is critical in the reconstructive process. Indeciding on gender assignements we go through the whole litany of horrors you illustrated. On deciding what base genetic predisposition we have is based on genetic testing ( blood tests ) and a CT/laparoscopy to identify existing internal structures and if in doubt biopsy them eg ovitestes/ streak gonads. Hormonal evaluation should also be done LH / FSH / Estrogen / 17 OH Progesterone/ Testosterone / DHEAS/ DHEA. This will determine any metabolic disease responsible for abnormal expression of male gender characteristics. This in fact is all that is required to identify male/female or intersex. Due to many environmental factors this is a condition very frequently encountered in South Africa and not something unusual for Urologists to be called in to examine diagnose and manage shortly after birth. South Africans possess a wealth of knowledge in this regard and who is to say this has not already been done for Caster? We wish her the very best in her athletics .

Anonymous said...

Usian Bolt has a very good doctor! There is no way a guy could possibly run the races he does. Even if he is a brilliant athlete it is still not possible. Still Respect the guy because he still trained hard to get to where he is even though he is doping!

Unknown said...

@Anonymouse (4:22am)

'If the lady menstruates and/or ovulates then surely that should be the end of the matter.If one can fall pregnant you should be classed as female.'

That is an acid test, but what if her training has lowered her body fat to the point where she no longer menstruates. I used to body-build and reduced my body fat to the point where I stopped menstruating. And no, I wasn't on steroids, it's just the way the female body works. Well, that's what I was told anyway.

Ross Tucker and Jonathan Dugas said...

Hi Justine

I just wanted to let you know that we have deleted the comments from Jet, because like you, found them incredibly offensive and they have no place in this debate. So they are gone - I assume you subscribe to the posts in order to receive those comments?

But they are gone from the site!


Unknown said...

Hey Ross & Jonathan

Yep I subscribe to the comments and I appreciate you taking jet2233's comments down :) Thanks for moderating so well!


Anonymous said...

It seems like the issue here is more about the time than it is about the sex. Let me put it this way,if there was any uncertainty about Caster is girl then those test should have been taken long before she got this far. Why doesn't this thing be looked at by genetic scientists? And what if this something to do with chromosomes whereby a girl/woman has Y chromosomes and therefor looks like a boy/man ? Where I work we have plenty of these situations. Whatever is happening don't take away the chance of South Africa bringing up a good athlete....

Anonymous said...

Is there any evidence that gender tests were not done 3 weeks prior to the the race? As ASA managment seem to indicate that these were done.

Joshua said...

So if she's not "entirely female," would she get to compete with men? I mean, she wouldn't be entirely male either, right? She is the fastest runner in that event in the world. What sort of misogyny is pulling the strings in this situation?

runfreefall said...

Hi guys,

Thanks for the article, I have a couple of questions though...

1.) Are all female athletes tested to see if they are 100% female, or only the ones that perform? It seems to me to be unfair to test only the ones that cause sensation, and not the girl that comes in 5th that might appear manly too.

2.) What are the requirements for deciding to test someone for "sex", it's not like she's even broken the world record? They are not testing other female athletes setting PBs and SBs are they?

3.) If she indeed are found to not be "entirely" fermale, and posessing secondary male characteristics, why the disqualification? Will she be disqualified from competing forever due to something that's entirely out of her control? That's unfair discrimination.

Mike said...

1+2)simply put - those who are suspect - either due to appearance or performance
3) it's an interesting matter. I would put it this way - it is also out of all men's control that they don't possess female characteristics. There are certain physical attributes that make females less athletically capable then males. So one has to fall into this category to be allowed participating as a woman. Otherwise, all "female" top performers would be former hermaphrodites and other intersexual persons and that would be absurd.

Gavin said...

Interesting discussion. It shows that the issue of whether someone is male or female is not so clear cut.


This link has some great background on the science behind gender testing.

Whatever the outcome, I hope the best for Caster.

Anonymous said...

@ Justine 9.46am.

Thanks for replying to my message 4.22am

The case you make for menstruation being absent is replicated in the animal world during times of famine with reproduction denied for the same reasons - loss of body fat. Once the food supply is plentiful again reproduction can then occur. The same applied to women in the Nazi holocaust camps as well - that is, menstruation ceased. Many of them went onto become mothers after rehabilitation.

Even if menstruation is absent the eggs that one day may or may not become human beings are present in a woman from birth. If they are present the athlete is female, particularly so if they are fertile. A simple sonar scan can determine if ovaries are present, are healthy and functioning.

Of concern to me is that of mistaken gender at birth. I personally know two people who found out in their adult life their true sex and the trauma that had to be gone through to realign them to their true sex. I hope this is not the case for Caster.

Finally, andri nieuwoudt @ 7.18am offers the best solution I have read so far. I tend to agree we are making an uncomplicated situation into a complicated one.

Unknown said...

I think it may be unfair to blame the ASA for not managing the controversy prior to the race. This is given that, Semenya would have been subjected to the tests anyway if another athlete lodged a complaint. And ASA would in no way have been able to manage her physical appearance. Therefore questions would still have been raised, if not by fellow athletes, by the spectators and other interested parties. In the light of the inconclusive nature of the sex verification tests listed by Ross, I think the 'pants down' test is the easiest and least messy (as simple and simplistic as it may seem), and it is probable that the ASA had considered these issues. Sometimes the best way is the simplest way.

Unknown said...

@ Anonymous 11:40am:

I absolutely agree with you 'Even if menstruation is absent the eggs that one day may or may not become human beings are present in a woman from birth. If they are present the athlete is female, particularly so if they are fertile. A simple sonar scan can determine if ovaries are present, are healthy and functioning.'

Surely the 'pants down' test and a sonar should be the only tests required? I mean, surely there's a limit to the type of scrutiny required? Caster has said she has one brother - maybe she idolised him and picked up masculine behaviour? Who's to say she doesn't come from an extremely laid-back family who don't put much truck in gender-assigned behaviour or traits? Not all families are aghast when their daughters are tomboys.

Frans Rutten said...

To Anonymous Will

"It actually reminded me of an email I got a while ago, from someone in California, and he'd pulled out the best long jump performances ever, and it turns out that only one performance from the 90s was in the list - every other one was from the 1980s."
Plus one from 1968.

That must have been quite a while ago, Will.

The ATWL figures 6 athletes with 22performances in the 1990s from 8,60m on. The most prominent athlete of cause being Carl Lewis with 5 jumps, but also ATWL wise with 19 performances out of 54 (8,60m-8,95m), but far more important, apart from that epic Tokyo night in 1991 where most likely the pinnacle of the PED period and external circumstances coincided, Carl Lewis jumped on 7 occasions further than Powell's second best ever competition jump of 8,70m.

Beamon's 8,90m and Emmiyan's 8,86m were altitude-based and Beamon's jump probably also wind-assisted.

So it's fair to say that only Powell and Lewis are figuring "legitemately" in the highest category. Next comes IMO 8,74m (adverse wind) of Dwight Phillips recently in Eugene.

But with regard to Bob Beamon.
I don't think in sports anything like that one exillerating magical jump has ever been matched. That after thorough analysis the jump can be defined as again still rather human (down to earth so to speak) doens'nt matter.

runfreefall said...


What constitutes a "suspect" performance? Breaking the world record by a couple of seconds maybe....winning the race by 6 metres because your competition is off the pace, I don't think so.

If "suspect performance is grounds then every SBs or large winning margin should be tested.

"Suspect" appearance....why then is none of the tests Ross mentions to do with appearance? If appearance was grounds, a simple physical examination would've sufficed.

Men posessing female characteristics does not subject them to humiliation like this. So according to you, a female athlete is a female athlete purely on the basis of being less capable than men?

Mike said:
"Otherwise, all "female" top performers would be former hermaphrodites and other intersexual persons and that would be absurd."

But that's the thing, the testing is not consistent and the requirements even less so.

I think the Straw Man argument by Anonymous a few posts up is the best logical argument on this page.

exilestreet said...

Thank you for this very informative post. I hope that you don't mind that I have linked to yr post here.

Unknown said...

"But Dirk, what if her genitalia are neither wholly male nor female? Not everyone is born in such a way."

Then do the scientific investigation, but at least start with those simplest of tests.


Hogwash! This is a case of sour grapes. Cheats like Marion Jones and their ilk from developing countries used enhancement drugs; they were hailed a champions, until years later when the applause has died, they turned to be what they are, CHEATS. This happened right under the noses of the know-alls like you. Stereotypes about how a girl looks like abound. Mokgadi does not conform to these stereotypes. If she was just a mediocre athlete, no one would have said this nonsense about her. Claiming that ASA is not professional is so self-serving; implying that you are and ASA, from Africa "nogal", do not know their marbles. Nothing good come out of Africa anyway. There is so much going on for South Africa, for the country to compromise that in order to get a pittance gold medal through Mokgadi. I agree that if she is proven scientifically not to be what she say she is, then there is a problem. But to embarass her the way the IAAF did, call for a review on how sports scientists within the body respond to incidences like this and how they relate to their affiliates. Already they were giving interviews before the process commences. But for doping caes like Marion Jones, "hush hush" approach is the name of the game, until the matter came to a head through the courts. Then after shedding some tears and sweet nothing apologies, they are forgiven. Stop treating Africa like trash.

Thivhilaeli MAKATYU, Milongoni ya Tshivhodza, South Africa

btc said...

just a point on the "if she's found to be "not entirely a woman", will she be allowed compete against men?" question. I would say yes she would.

the division of the event (800m) into two categories, men and women, is because of the large difference between men and women's abilities. clearly in this case, the mens event is the "senior" event, and in some sense should be seen as "open" - i.e. anyone can compete in the mens event.

let me use a few analogies to illustrate what i mean. in boxing for example, weight is a large advantage, so maximum weight categories are introduced. but if a middleweight wants to fight at super-middleweight, he is entitled to (within reason on safety grounds of course), but not vice versa. in horse racing, lower weight of jockeys is an advantage, so hypothetically there could be minimum weight categories. and then a "large" jockey could compete int he low weight category, but not vice versa.

so i think that semanya (or any woman) should be allowed compete in the mens event, but not vice versa. this is the case in golf (michelle wie, sorenstam etc.)

another example would be pro vs amateur - an amateur can compete in a pro event. in each event, whatever is designated as the "elite" category should be open to all, with all other categories being restricted as required.

Anonymous said...

Have you really thought of boys who look like women, having said that, has IAAF gender-tested them? I mean at face value they are women. I am just saying all the women they had last night might be men.Why the world is not doubting any of them?

frue said...

I just don't get one thing.. How did this become a public issue? If i remember correctly they were doing gender tests until Atlanta 1996 but they were all done in confidence.. So, why wasn't this issue handled in confidence? Poor girl! Haven't iaaf learnt nothing from the case some years ago when they banned that indian runner Santhi.. She even tried to commit suicide!

Nate said...

simple problem with a simple test. The only fair and absolute way to determine sex is to perform a genetic test. If there is a Y chromosome, we have a man. Two X chromosomes, we have a woman.

Anonymous said...

I feel so sorry For Caster!
I Agree why aren't all the women altheletes being tested - most of them are "well" build.
If it turns out Caster has male sex - she will be devastated - not only will she be disqualified and will have to deal with all the emotions of her condition
If it turns out Caster has female sex - she will always have this hanging over her - and the shame of how people see her!

This is sad - really really sad!

This is a cruel world!

Anonymous said...

What a bunch of lousy losers those girls who ran with Caster are! The least they could have done was to show good sportswomanship and give credit where it's due.

And what a humiliating ordeal for the poor young girl! Would IAAF subject her to this ordeal if she was a European girl who looked, and spoke more like her father than her mother? Is it really that inconceivable that an outstanding female athlete could come out of rural South Africa? Should everything that's good that comes out of South Africa be scrutinised for some hidden element of wrongness? As a young South African female myself, I feel deeply offended by what Caster is being subjected to.

Anonymous said...

After reading the AIS posts I did a little Googling. This link I found interesting... it is really more of an overview of AIS and its overall social significance.

Nonetheless, worth perusing.... Basically, the implications of XX, XY, etc. are not so black and white




PS - Thanks, Ross, for getting rid of that (expletive deleted) Jet.

Ross Tucker and Jonathan Dugas said...

hi there

I just have time to respond to one comment:

To Milongoni

I find your comment very distasteful, because you're reducing this to a racist issue and asking us to stop treating Africa like trash. You are incapable of seeing past your own prejudices, and I find it distasteful that you'd bring that to what is an otherwise sensible debate.

This has nothing to do with "nothing good can come out of Africa". The world's best runners come out of AFrica, I celebrate the achievements of Bekele and co all the time on this site - read it and see.

But you have somehow managed to drag this debate into the gutter. So many people who disagree with the concepts have posted here and are most welcome, but this is definitely not.

Sadly, I know you are unlikely to read this response, just as I suspect you have not read much of the coverage so far.


Ross Tucker and Jonathan Dugas said...

To Nate:

Short answer - it's not that simple. Unfortunately, there are cases where people with XY are female, because the Y-chromosome doesn't express or the person is insensitive to androgens. If this was the case, then you'd falsely exclude some women

Similarly, there are XX cases where there are some cells with XY - this is called a mosaic condition.

Like I said in the post, and in the latest one, I am pulling all this together, and I will post on it. But it's not as simple as this, unfortunately...


Anonymous said...

The IAAF should be ashamed for the recent controversy over Caster Semenya's impressive run. First, the publicity surrounding the issue, that could be nothing short of mortifying for the family and athlete herself, should be grounds enough for someone at this agency to be severely reprimanded. This "gender test" could have been performed without the whole world having to know about it.

Second, the idea of it being called a "gender test" is ridiculous, to say the least. Gender refers to someone's perception of being of a certain sex. Obviously this is not the concern of this test, as its first implication is doubt of the parents and trainers who entered a female in the race and of the athlete herself who identifies as a female; Semenya and her team's assessment of her gender is obviously irrelevant in the face of the know-it-all medical authority. The IAAF has no justification for a gender test, not even a sex test for that matter. If a male athlete turned out to have female gonads, chromosomes, secondary characteristics, or a mix, this body would not even have bothered, so there is an issue of (gender and sex) discrimination here, too, as males are not subject to this test. The assumption appears to be that competition amongst males is competition amongst the best, the toughest, the fittest, so that any person competing against males and outperforming them cannot be subject to a gender test -- there is no third superior gender/sex to doubt performance is appropriate in the category of male, as is the case amongst the supposed weaker competition, females.

Furthermore, this young adult's time is not even the fastest ever amongst females, but because of a "dramatic" improvement over her own personal best, and over her peers at this moment in time, she is being singled out for gender testing. In fact, compared to male competitors, her performance is not even remarkable; however, there is now an insinuation with this gender test that Semenya may be better suited competing against males. This is similar to Jamaican Bolt's performance that was diminished and denigrated with repeated claims and doubts concerning doping during the Olympics, only more sinister in the case of Semenya because at least no one doubted, or even raised as an issue, his sex or gender.

The IAAF has been everything but professional in this matter. Their handling of the case has been absolutely appalling and their justification for their actions has only revealed a discriminatory policy pretending to promote fairness in competition with a veneer of medico-scientific authority. This is not a fairness issue, this is a witch hunt. It is time the IAAF reconsidered its policy on testing.



Leslie said...

Are some people in here blind? This is a guy... Is so obvious. I am shock he was allowed to run.

Unknown said...


At the risk of flogging a dead horse, if it was so obvious it would have been called into question years ago, instead of now that she's showing major improvement.

The fact that she was allowed to run further underscores the fact that it is is not obvious.

Monty said...

Regardless of whether performing gender testing on Semenya alone is fair, the IAAF is of course limited by resources, time, etc. It seems obvious to me that one would not be tested unless their true sex is in question. Many people here disagree that Semenya's unusual masculinity and performance automatically makes her suspect. However, couldn't these be the main indicators of such a condition? Or, is it possible for a hermaphrodite with visible female organs and vestigial testes (just for example) to also look like an average female? Can someone with professional knowledge please clarify?

Also, some of you have tried to rhetorically apply the reverse situation to male sports, in order to label this controversy misogynistic. It isn't sexism, it's being realistic. At competitive levels, male runners simply run 800m much faster than females. If a runner whose primary gender is female has any male organs or genetics, and thus male hormones, of course they would have an unfair advantage, and of course the opposite condition would not be considered an advantage, but a disadvantage.

I don't disagree that if Semenya turns out to be 100% female, that this testing will have been hurtful and a result of poor planning by the ASA and IAAF, but it is still not wrong. If she turns out to be less than 100% female, I don't think any of us will be surprised. I don't think Semenya, her coaches, family, or trainers will be particularly shocked either. If she does turn out to be of both sexes, it is likely at some point in her past she had acknowledged her unusual androgyny and struggled with her gender identity.

Anonymous said...


Perhaps the reason that Semenya's gender has been not been called into question in the past is that her significant muscle growth and similarly improved time at age 18 is less characteristic of females, and much more so of males?

Also, it's not out of question that her trainers, coaches and ASA officials overlooked her questionable gender because they are either ignorant, in denial, or want to support their athlete at any cost. Before I get labeled as some sort of SA/Africa/3rd World hater and flamed, I would consider that sort of thing equally likely anywhere else in the world. Coaches, trainers, doctors, and national qualifying bodies seem to be covering for their athletes all the time, it doesn't seem like breaking news.

Ross Tucker and Jonathan Dugas said...

Hi Justine

Just to respond to your last comment:

It has been in question for a long time. That's different from saying it's "obvious", but definitely, the doubt has been there for a while now.

That is the reason I wrote earlier that ASA should be looked at, because they've known for a few years what the potential for problems were here. So either:

1) They failed to test altogether
2) They did an insufficient test and decided that she was female
3) They tested her and found that she was very "suspicious" and sent her anyway
4) They tested her and she's clear and no one has anything to worry about

If it was 4, we'd know. However, the first 3 are all very poor on the part of management, particularly the 3rd option.

The fact that she was allowed to run, sadly, tells nothing of the likelihood of her being cleared. As I said in my article today (at the homepage), I believe SA sport management to be incapable of managing the process, even in the presence of experts who may know the truth. And, we could very well have sent her anyway...


Ross Tucker and Jonathan Dugas said...

Hi Justine

Just to respond to your last comment:

It has been in question for a long time. That's different from saying it's "obvious", but definitely, the doubt has been there for a while now.

That is the reason I wrote earlier that ASA should be looked at, because they've known for a few years what the potential for problems were here. So either:

1) They failed to test altogether
2) They did an insufficient test and decided that she was female
3) They tested her and found that she was very "suspicious" and sent her anyway
4) They tested her and she's clear and no one has anything to worry about

If it was 4, we'd know. However, the first 3 are all very poor on the part of management, particularly the 3rd option.

The fact that she was allowed to run, sadly, tells nothing of the likelihood of her being cleared. As I said in my article today (at the homepage), I believe SA sport management to be incapable of managing the process, even in the presence of experts who may know the truth. And, we could very well have sent her anyway...


Anonymous said...

That's is the most manly looking "woman" I have ever seen. (S)he must have an abundance of male hormones. Let's complete the test and move on.

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

She didn't look any different versus any of hte other woman out there. When I was watching I honestly thought she looked pretty cute. I don't know what all this is about. I saw probably two dozen "girls" in that meet that would pass for a guy at football practice.

Unknown said...

I absolutely agree with you. It's just a sad state of affairs which has made me lose a little bit of faith.. because I believe sport is a sanctuary, and something which can (and does) uplift people. It would be sad if this were to ruin a life, or discourage young athletes from pursuing their dreams, because of lack of trust in the system. Buuuuut, it would be even worse if this gender-bender issue ruined anyone else's sporting chance to win a medal.

Clare Forrester said...

If the IAAF and the IOC allowed all those masculine-looking Eastern bloc women to compete in the 1970s through to the 80s, then I see absolutely no reason why this unfortunate SA 17-year old should have been denied participating and accepting her medal. Incidentally, the records of all those female athletes of an earlier generation, as well as the US record-breaking sprinter whose physical appearance at the time of her own world record-breaking feats had visibly altered into a more masculine one, remain fixed in the books even though the Germans have obliterated theirs at the national level. That is the injustice to our current generation of female stars. Is it any wonder that despite Semenya's amazing feats today, she has yet to re-write any of those records? And regarding the gender issue, do not we all have a mix of male and female chromosomes? So Semenya may have a few extra male ones than the average woman. So what? We should all get off her case and allow her to celebrate her achievement.

Anonymous said...

Just one brief point - the question of gender is different from other characteristics (Phelps Feet, Roddick Spine) because it allows entry into a restricted entry event (the women's event) which has a lower winning standard, but a similar winning reward. Phelps and Roddick are human, probably beyond question(!) and that's all they need to be to take part.

Hence, although this question is a difficult one for Caster herself, it is also of great relevance to Jepkosgei who was seeking to retain her title and crossed the line in second.

Manuel said...

Ok, don't get me wrong, but she clearly doesn't have a penis (you can't see it in her shorts like the other guys haha), so, if she was born with a vagina, she's a woman... i mean "omg she was this weird disease..and she's a man".... erm... so? And the ethiopian women from the long distances who look like they weigh less than my dog.. are they gonna be disqualified for being anorexic?

Anonymous said...

How sad the world we live in. After reading about Caster, does it mean that before one becomes an athlete they need to get themselves tested intensely to make sure they participate in the correct gender ( in case one is found to be a quarter male and three quarters female or vice-versa).When a child is born what determines that the child is a boy or girl? do extensive tests need to be carried out? This young woman comes from a background where sex and not gender is the reason her family insist she is a girl despite physical appearance and stigma hence the reason she competes with women.She probably was a tomboy when growing up. Her background is not rich that we may suspect sex change. How many people do we know in developing countries of this girl's age who have had sex change. These suspicions should have been stopped by ASA the first time she competed and was suspected than allow her reputation to be destroyed, be bullied and stigmatised by the world and probably no man wants her or they might want her to check for themselves and sell the story.As a woman myself, to be told you look like a man and have the world assessing you from head to toe is the most demeaning thing anyone could go through. I believe she is a woman I do not care what anyone says. As an African myself (not being racist) coming from a similar backgroung as her I have grown up with people like her and understand how she and her family might be feeling. Male or female sex and not gender is what we know. I am sure her family or herself never heard of this so called intensive testing. what if she is found a woman, is ASA going to make up for what Canester has lost. If ASA believes she is a woman they should have stuck by her and stopped these allegations before destroying someone's future or letting her destroy her own future if the allegatons are true. I blame ASA for what this young woman is going through. Lalati

Anonymous said...

If all "male" looking well performing females were tested then i don't have a problem with it. Many of the Jamaican, Cuban athletes looked very manly. the only thing they did differently was wear makeup, fancier hairstyles and even the removal and male looking hair around the eyebrows (plucking) and lip really seem to help. Test Caster, then test them all - her time wasn't unheard of for a woman to run. You are talking about a young African rural woman here, still learning the ropes of things like make-up and eyebrow plucking. I don't care whats in her blood/system, if she is a female in her heart and "down-under" then let her be or test everyone who may seem "manly" or butch! Some of the Thai "boylady's" should come and do athletics to really confuse the eye!!! Even if you had to cut Martina Navratilova's hair short way back when, you would have thought twice. I bet she does have male genes above the normal level. Many women must have! A proud but upset South African.

Anonymous said...

Here's an academic paper about variations in the expression of gender traits

Unknown said...

Thanks for this excellent post and your responsible treatment of a sensitive topic. Just before reading this i read The Times (UK) article, which is abominable and a discrace to journalism (http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/sport/more_sport/athletics/article6803688.ece).

Well done,

Serendipity Books said...

There are no known cases of males, or pseudohermaphrodites or hermaphrodites menstruating. If Caster Semenya menstruates (I think a gynaecologist could attest to this within a month or so) then she is a woman without doubt. However, if she doesn't, that doesn't prove anything and all the hormonal and gene tests will probably have to be done.

Monty said...

"And the ethiopian women from the long distances who look like they weigh less than my dog.. are they gonna be disqualified for being anorexic?"

Manuel, those "anorexic" ethiopians probably eat three times as much as you do every day, lol. And I'm sure they keep it down

Kara said...

While some do use 'gender' and 'sex' as you have suggested, I prefer to keep it simple and use gender and sex to mean the same thing, but use 'gender identity' to refer to the case where you simply use gender. This helps alleviate any confusion of the word 'gender'.

Being a transsexual athlete, I've found better success in explaining the difference between 'gender identity' and sex/gender.

Anonymous said...

To Ross, and others:

I think a very common misconception about the role of a psychologist in Semenya's testing (and pyschologists in general) is being perpetuated here. While the psychologist involved may be working to deduce if Semenya's gender identity corresponds with her physiology, while handling the political and social sensitivity of the issue, I would like to reminds that the broad term 'psychologist' does not totally refer to persons involved with the study and applications psychoanalysis. It also refers to those who study and practice the applications of neurology/ neuroscience. I think it's must more likely that in the case of Semenya's testing, it would be brain scans that the psychologist contributed.


maryka said...

FYI, gender is a grammatical term historically referring to words while sex referred to animals. I think in PC times, gender became a "nicer" word to use than sex, so these days the two seem somewhat interchangeable in common speak. Scientists tend to use sex to refer to biological categories, while gender refers to cultural/social categories. See
http://www.thefreedictionary.com/dict.asp?Word=gender for more info.

Anonymous said...

Interesting reading and I would like to add three things..

1. I am sure we are not aware of everything. You can bet the IAAF have not told us everything.

2. In the past they did gender test all women and I think it was 1991 that they stopped doing that.

3. This has been said before but i'll add again. You have to consider all the racers. There will be scope to allow as many women to race but you have to draw the line somewhere.

Ross Tucker and Jonathan Dugas said...

Hi Again all

Once again, sorry I don't respond to more of your comments. I read them, and I'm so keen to reply, because often, it's a clarification that is needed, around why simply observing genitalia is not sufficient, or why chromosomes sometimes "lie", but work has prevented me from doing so!

But thanks for the comments, they've been very interesting.

I particularly enjoyed realMacaroni's first post, well said!

I also have been thinking about this issue that she's being tested because she's winning. I disagree, like one of the anonymous posters. Many winners are not tested, so winning alone is not a reason. I think there is some merit in saying that if she'd been at the back of the pack, she wouldn't be tested. THat's conjecture, however.

Point is, of course the focus is on her because she's winning. That's what winning does - the issue is that if she has this advantage, then other athletes are being denied medals, finals, and possibly money, as a result, so we focus on her. It's part of the deal, so I don't think a great argument.

Then finally, just on this issue of "taking away a good athlete" (anonymous at 10h44). It's a little more complex than this. An athlete must compete as equally as is possible, and if that doesn't happen, then it's absolutely right to take them away. This is sport, and there is no entitlement in it.


Ross Tucker and Jonathan Dugas said...

Oh, just one more thing to clarify:

Anonymous at 10h49 said:
"Is there any evidence that gender tests were not done 3 weeks prior to the the race? As ASA managment seem to indicate that these were done. "

This is very, very important. The latest reports, including statements from the IAAF, suggest that they asked for a report from ASA on July 31, after her race in Mauritius.

The contents of that report are going to be absolutely vital. Because either:
1) ASA did not test, and are lying
2) ASA did test, but did insufficient tests and reached the wrong conclusion
3) ASA did test, and found evidence of suspicion, and that Semenya should not compete
4) ASA did test, and found nothing

If it's any one of the first three, ASA are deeply to blame. If it's option 4, then they're OK. However, if it was 4, then we'd know about it. I can only surmise that it's one of the first 3.

Now, if that's the case, then I want to know what was in the report that ASA sent when asked about it. That will be vital to this.


Frans Rutten said...

I cannot rule out anymore the remote possibility that Jelimo's dismissal this season has primarily to do with a negative psychological component. According to the belgian manager Marc Corstjens the IAAF had done all what's necessary to remove the risen doubts about her gender. The IAAF denies to have done this. The manager though did not confirm with Jelimo herself what was or what was not conducted! Source: NRC (Netherlands).

So Jelimo and Semenya are IMO intertwined all over a sudden. What a coincedence!

Saw the interview with Semanya.
Really composed, far from less attractive (neutral observation) as soon as you see her as a boy from the angle of appearance. Doesn't seem to be affected by the turmoil at all. Has dealt with this issue on a smaller level probably all her life. Been bullied and harrassed, I reckon. On the photo in the first or second article I saw about her only her legs were visible. Could that be more revealing about what was to come. Picture Vessey been shown on a T&FN cover with only her legs visible.

Anonymous said...

Now this is going to sound bad, but read it all first. I hope that they do disqualify her and try to claim she is a male. Then later on if she is lucky she may have a child and half the world would be embarassed that they had done this to her. The last time that I checked only the female sex could produce offspring in the human species. Even if they end up saying that she is a hermaphrodite, does that mean that she could not compete? What a load of crap. So now there would have to be sports contests for male, female and undetermined sex individuals? Insane. If she has a uterus that was not put in there by a doctor that is a woman in my book. Leave her alone.

Ross Tucker and Jonathan Dugas said...

Hi to anonymous (6:56)

THank you for that, it's very insightful and helpful to the argument. I certainly had focused only on the social/gender-sex issue, but you're quite right, and I'll be sure to make that point if it comes up again. Much appreciated!

Then to anonymous (7:02)

You're right, no doubt. I think the IAAF can't release everything yet though, so much more will come out. I also think ASA have not announced everything, and have even announced incorrect things (I just look at the number of contradictions in the media over here)

On the second,you're right, it was compulsory and they stopped, and then third, 100% correct, the IAAF have to balance EVERYONE, and that means equality of competition.

Then to anonymous (7:14)

Be careful what you wish for. I know you're making a point, but you're dramatically over simplifying the issue. The ability to produce children is not a determinant of sex for sport. It's often a consequence, but let's say that Semenya has condition that causes excessive testosterone production (say, a tumor on an ovary). That would preclude her participation, but only until she gets it treated. THat's one example, there are others.

It need not become as extreme as you are suggesting - we don't need different divisions, and it's certainly not a load of crap. Tell that to women who've been beaten and lost medals/places in finals as a result of what they perceive to be inequal competition. And it's sad for Semenya, but one can't just leave her alone, there are many other things in play here, not one athlete...


Anonymous said...

Axel from London, England said...

Firstly an excellent post by the author.

Some people are convinced that questions are only being raised because she is winning. I believe the questions are being asked because she has absolutely no prior record or history in athletics prior to this year.

Others, Usain Bolt for example, have not just appeared overnight, he has collegiate and junior records and championship appearances behind his current senior success. People where talking highly of Usain Bolt 3 years prior to the Beijing games. The previous poster who accused Mr Bolt of doping because he is winning by such large margins obviously doesn't follow junior athletics!

For someone to display such prodigious talent, as this person has in the last few months, producing world leading times with no long history of athletic talent at junior levels is highly unusual.

regardless of race or creed I think questions would be asked of any athlete out of nowhere, so to speak, starting posting world leading times.

Also although I have some sympathy with this person and how she has been treated by the authorities lets not forget there were another 7 athletes in that race that have trained extremely hard all year and made sacrifices we can only imagine to try and become a world champion. How would you feel in their position if one of your competitors is suspected of having an unfair advantage? As a competitive athlete myself (not track & field) I know what my feelings would be and how cheated and demoralized I would feel. All you want as an athlete in any sport is a fair chance to win on a level playing field.

Also the person claiming that all the Jamaican female athletes look like men betrays his ignorance with such sweeping generalizations. You apparently have some preconceived notion of what constitutes beauty, based on what I don't know, but I for one don't think feminine beauty and a muscular physique are mutually exclusive.

For everyone's sake I hope the tests prove conclusive so we and the person involved know one way or the other. The sport can move on and the athlete can carry on with life out of the current negative glare of publicity.


Anonymous said...

Was diverted here from Ben Goldagre's BadScience forum http://www.badscience.net/forum/viewtopic.php?f=6&t=11163#p225132. Just like to say what a balanced, well informed piece. I only wish the mainstream media would do the same instead of pandering to ignorance, prejudice and stereotypes.

Anonymous said...

I wonder if it turns out that she is intersex, if the Stockholm Consensus allowing transgender athletes would apply to her as well (http://multimedia.olympic.org/pdf/en_report_905.pdf).

I feel so bad for her. If she has lived her entire life as a female, to discover that you are not "technically" female has got to be devistating.

I was a high level athlete for many years, and met an athlete from Brazil who was intersex (hermaphroditic, I believe) and competed as a women. She even participated in the Olympics. I hope that Caster is able to do so as well.

Dee said...

According to Caster's family, Semenya has been teased about her appearence since childhood. She has long been mistaken for being a boy, so this is hardly something new to her. Watching a video of her 800 meter race, her torso appears male. She has no visible waist or hips while all of the other runner have slim but clearly defined waist and hips. This is a huge distinction, because it is a women's wider pelvic girdle that in part accounts for women's slower speeds relative to men. Men's narrow, stright-up-and-down hips allow there legs to move in a straight line, while women's wider hips force there thigh to move slight outward to clear the hip and then back around to the front to strike the ground. The wider the hips, the more pronounced the circuliar motion and the longer it takes for each stride. The top women runer's have much narrow hips than the avearge women, but they still have wider hips then a man. Watch this video and observe how much higher the back legs are kicking up on the other women and how faster there legs move compared to Castor. Castor appears to have a male's stride, the legs move in a straight line and because she doesn't have to compensate for her hips she is able to cover the ground faster with a much lower leg swing. I don't this alone means that she is male, but watching her run, I can well understand why the other female runners suspect that she is a man.


Anonymous said...

I had to skim through many of the 142 comments so I apologise if I am replicating another's point, but as I see it, there is an objective test alrady in place - that the athlete must perform in the sex category as stated on their birth certificate. Now what is happening is when this exceptional young talent arrives the test may remain that one competes under the sex on the birth certificate, but the validity of the birth certificate is now to be trashed (more Home Affairs bungling???) Procedurally that is a nonsense. The Rules must be changed if they don't want the best SA has to offer to compete. Not embarrass her in this shameful manner.

Mike H said...

It wouldn't matter if an athlete was black, white or pink with purple spots, such a massive improvement from one year to the next was always going to raise questions and being a junior posting world leading times were only heighten them.

Doping would be the first item to be checked. Given the short amount of time between the Juniors and the Worlds it would seem to be impossible that the full gender tests had taken place and the proper analysis had taken place.

Given the rumours, the IAAF were left between a rock and a hard place. Lie or admit that they had asked for the tests - a non-statement wouldn't have made the rumours go away. They were bounced into it and some of the headlines used were just being sensationalist.

Having watched the interview of the third-placed athlete, Jenny Meadows, who was put in an awkward spot over this by the post-race interviewer but handled it quite well.

okojo said...

I would wager she has partial or complete AIS. She has a male bone and appears to have a male skeleton.

The person I would test isn't Caster, it is her mom, to see if she had the defective androgen receptor on one of her X chromosomes.

Whether Caster is XY, XXY, XYY etc. She was raised as a female,and she looked upon as a women, given she identifies as a woman.

Deon Joubert said...

As a former middle distance T&F athlete myself (provincial & national level) I want to add the following:

The improvement of Caster's PB's in the last 12 months does raise some suspicion especially since she does not have any track record @ SA Junior level prior to 2008.

Looking at the race, it also seems as though she could go even faster and was really controlling her pace over the last 150 metres, i.e. "holding back" as if not wanting to break the world record.

Her interview after the semi's referring to a "3 to 4 month" break from training, as confirmed by her coach in the South African press, I find really incredulous! A world class middle distance athlete able to perform at his level whilst not training for 3 to 4 months per year, is without precedent - All serious middle distance runners know that serious base training needs to be done in the off-season (i.e. x-country) to prepare for the T&F season.

So apart from all the arguments about her physique, the above will just add to the suspicion of her fellow competitors.

Anonymous said...

The whole issue seems moot if the posters who state that inersexed and transgendered people are allowed to compete are correct. Why would this be controversial if men who have had sex changes are allowed to compete as women? Wouldn't they still have the same skeletal and muscular structure they had pre-op? How would they be more of a woman than Caster who was by all accounts born with female genetalia? If genetics don't matter, why test her?

Ross Tucker and Jonathan Dugas said...

Hi all

Just a last one for me before I go to bed!

I see a latest 'trend' on the forum is to discuss this issue of the improvement in performance. I agree that this is a real flag. If I were shown those statistics for any athlete, I'd immediately wonder about it - further investigation would usually focus on doping.

In this case, it's found its "home" in the sex issue, and I agree that it's a compelling argument. So thank you for that part of the discussion. It becomes even more intriguing when you hear that she took a 3 or 4 month break, and that her coach confirmed it. Then it really does become startling, I agree, and it does create context for the debate.

Anyway, that's it from me!


maryka said...

In response to the last Anonymous poster, actually a transgendered fully transitioned MTF (male to female) often has a DISadvantage in competing against women in certain sports (distance running being one of them). This is because she is no longer producing testosterone, and is taking estrogen hormones. Muscle tone decreases, body fat increases, and all the while she still has a heavier male skeleton to support, so power to weight ratio drops quite a bit. The exception might be in sports where gravity/weight is a positive factor, such as downhill mountain biking. In fact, there has been much controversy in Canada over Michelle (formerly Michael) Dumaresq for this very reason. But in most cases, a MTF will actually be disadvantaged. See this Runner's World article for an interesting discussion about it, http://bit.ly/ERa9z

Dee said...

Deon Joubert said: "Looking at the race, it also seems as though she could go even faster and was really controlling her pace over the last 150 metres, i.e. "holding back" as if not wanting to break the world record."

The stride looks almost lazy. The maximum angle of her raised leg looks low even for a competitive distance runner and doesn't look at all like the full out sprint form you see in the other women. I suspect she could have been going a whole lot faster then she was. Her time of 1:56 was really close to the winner of the Man's event who had 1:50,72. That is a pretty narrow spread between the genders for this event. The current Women's 800 record time is 1:53.28 while the Men's 800 record time is 1:41.11. Quite a difference. I suspect is Caster sprinted full out for the whole race she might well have been able to medal racing in the men's event.

Anonymous said...

Interesting story. Either way I feel badly for Caster.

I was a state champion triple jumper in Oregon, also ran 100, 200, 400 and cross country. I had always trained with the guys and in doing so wasn't the most 'ladylike' in my youth, didn't like dresses, heels, makeup, etc. Mostly because I was so 'built' womens clothes didn't fit anyway so if I told myself it didn't matter or I didn't care, it didn't hurt as much. I also could gain muscle mass quite easily and was stronger than the girls. My squat record was scary. With that said and done, those years over and I older had seen an endocrinologist and was informed that testing concluded I have a goofy ratio of estrogen to testosterone. Not enough testorone to put me into the 'man' category but definitely enough to cause chaos trying to conceive.

I then had the thought, wow...i wonder if this is why i was so much stronger, faster, more muscle mass. To this day although no longer 'ripped' the strength remains as well as a low heart rate and the timing on this story is so odd as I wondered if I would of been DQ'd had I been tested back then due to the goofy ratio. I'm thinking they just would of thought I was on supplements.

I think gender issues are rough and my new question concerning Caster is now...what happens to a 'gender ambiguous' athelete? Is their career doomed?

Anonymous said...

The case of Maria José Martinez Patiño, a Spanish hurdler, is relevant here. She is genetically XY but has complete androgen insensitivity. As such, she was no more biologically male than any menopausal female is.

There are a number of other natural biological variations that complicate the definition of biological sex*.

While " internal medicine specialists, gynecologists, psychologists, geneticists and endocrinologists" all have something to contribute to the question, realistically, it's probably best to say that male/female or man/woman are not the simple dichotomies we usually assume them to be.

There's some good short articles in The Lancet, vol. 366, December 2005, Medicine and Sport.


* "Biological sex" is redundant but I use it for clarity. Sex, male, and female refer to biology, while gender, man, woman, girl, and boy refer to identity, psychology, and social role.

Anonymous said...

Did Caster's dramatic improvement in performance not coincide with her having moved from the village - no running water or electricity and possibly no coaching, training facilities or proper nutrition - to the University with a coach, world class facilities and all the other improvements that came with the move?

Perhaps Caster's lifestyle changes were as dramatic as her performance improvements? Ross, you comment?

Anonymous said...

I wonder about the possibility of (congenital?) adrenal hyperplasia (CAH), which can produce high levels of androgens and some physical masculinization in females.

Anonymous said...

she looks way more like a man than a woman...ahah.

The Rat said...

Is there something going on with the lack of record breaking performances since the 80'? How about this for a theory:

Better Steroids in the 80's

Seriously, back then how accurate and how enthusiastic was the drug testing compared to today? Or maybe how sensitive was it? Could it be that, in order to avoid positive tests, athletes have moved on to less detectable and less effective performance enhancers? Athletes compete temporally against their peers so using the "best" steroid isn't necessary as long as it is equivalent to what others have and is not easily detectable. Take "the clear" for example, is it as effective as stanozolol?

Frankly, I wonder why certain athletes in sports known for performance enhancing drugs retire suddenly. Or why some come back after retirement. Could it be that their drug of choice might suddenly be detectable and retirement is a way to avoid detection? Could such an athlete come back after a new drug becomes available? I wonder . . .

Aled said...

I feel terribly sorry for the way this whole situation has been handled by ASA and the IAAF. Athletic excellence must be at the centre of these World Champs.

On the issue of gender verification, though, there must be a common-sense approach to prove that an athlete is female. It must be tremendously expensive for athletic federations to employ the services of 5 clinicians and to run an exhaustive range of tests. Must this be done at national, regional and local meets sanctioned by every IAAF affiliated federation worldwide?

What if I don't like the look of a competitor in the Women's 100m at the Boland champs. Must she be shipped off to the Medi Clinic at her own expense to get 5 doctors to sign off on her femaleness? Hey, this could be a way of excluding opposition from the other side of the tracks, ne?

Surely it is the primary sexual characterists that are crucial in determining biological sex (and therefore gender) in a case like this.

Yes, there will be many female athletes who have greater characteristically "male" features, but isn't that just their genetic inheritance. My dodgy eyes and loose ligaments (heredity) mean that I will never achieve anything more athletic than Scrabble.

We have socially determined that male athletes should compete against other males and females against females, and that younger athletes should compete in classes based on age and sex (and elite athletes with disabilities divided by sex and nature of disability (and age)). These are our choices to ensure as level a playing field as possible, but Mother Nature endows some people with better goods than others.

To sum up, a person's sex must be determined cheaply and simply. To suggest others makes the very idea of athletic competition appear to be based on the caprice: someone else will decide whether or not a woman is woman enough to compete against her fellow women.

Jackie G. said...

As I read all of the speculation about Caster Semenya's gender, I can only think about how much this hurts.

Like another anonymous poster upthread, I was a competitive high school athlete. I threw shot put and discus and trained with the guys because there were no other women on the track team who competed in field events. I too gained muscle mass easier than other women and to this day, I still do. The stories about clothes not fitting and making choices about what to wear and trying to ignore it (don't get me started about trying to find 'women's fit' athletic clothing now) and not wearing makeup or dresses? All familiar. As is the estrogen/testosterone ratio - according to my doctor, I'm 15 points above what women normally have in terms of testosterone. I also have polycystic ovaries which explains the imbalance. It also explains the hair on my face which I've had to deal with since my early 20s. To this day, I can stand in front of someone in full work drag (make up, and obviously feminine clothing) and still have someone call me 'sir'.

I'm reminded of how both Florence Griffith-Joyner and Jackie Joyner-Kersee were initially dogged with questions about their gender. That Jackie endured a lot of criticism about 'looking' like a man.

The racialized (not racist) aspect of this is how many black women are sometimes described as 'mannish' or 'masculine' if they don't conform to a hyper-feminized norm.*

Like it or not, that's part of the argument here. Semenya doesn't 'present' her gender in a way that is comfortable and in fact, actively eschews doing so; someone pointed out her not knowing the 'ways of the world' in regards to makeup and eyebrow plucking. Is that supposed to make things better? Or, what if she happens to be a lesbian? That's the other elephant in the room - not a full sized pachyderm but it's there.

All racing and testing aside, we need to fess up to the fact that Semenya makes people feel uncomfortable, that her achievement is suspect in part because of an outward presentation.

If they want to test her for doping, by all means do so, especially if there are questions about her increased level of achievement over a very short period of time. That's the proper thing to do.

But gender questioning (and the fact that the questioning falls disproportionally on women and not on men as a whole) - that's something we need to get a handle on. Because what do we do with the athlete who isn't "100%" of either societally approved genders? Who decides the percentage of what makes any of us what we are and who we claim to be?

*(the black women/'masculinity' conundrum is something that's easy to look up so I won't include a reference unless someone really wants it).

okojo said...

In response to Alex's post...

I think the sport bodies want to be as conclusive as possible about her sex. Whether she is xxy, has endocrine disorder, or she has AIS. So it puts the questions to rest.

She also come straight out of the blue to compete in and possibly dominate female mid distance events.

South Africa Sport Authorities should looked upon these test to squash the rumors about Semenya's sex, instead of being outrage about the rumors.

The rumors are just going to grow, if Semenya refuses to cooperate. If she is banned from competing, than they are missing out from having one of their top prospects destroying the 400 and 800 m records.

Personally, I think she has AIS. If she had a serious endocrine disorder, like CAH, she couldn't be an athlete, or would have some serious health issues.

She probably has no body hair like most AIS women. She is probably biologically a male, but she should be treated as a woman, and still be treated as a woman even if the tests states she is a biological male. Her identity has always been as female, and this may be a shock to her, as a couple female athletes who failed a sex test. Her gender shouldn't change, and she should be looked upon as a woman.

Anonymous said...

"Her identity has always been as female, and this may be a shock to her, as a couple female athletes who failed a sex test. Her gender shouldn't change, and she should be looked upon as a woman."

If the stories being printed quoting people from her home town are to accurate, most people believed her to be male since she was a child. One teacher says she always played with the boys, dressed and groomed herself as a boy and he had no idea she was a girl until he asked them to line boys on one side and girl on the other, and was shocked when Caster lined up with the girls. Her family insists she is a girl and was raised as one, but apparently you would never know that based upon the way she was dressed and socialized. I am not saying that she must conform to societey's expectations about how a women should look and act, but if your appearence is that of a male, you should not be surprised that people mistake you for a male.

Char said...

A couple of other posters have brought this up, but most seem to be skipping over it. The fact is, transgendered athletes (male to female) ARE permitted to compete with females.

There are obviously 2 main things (other than psychological issues) that happen in going from male to female, one being the surgery (changing to female genetalia) and the other being hormone treatment. If Caster has female genetalia then she obviously covers off on that part, so the issue becomes about her hormone levels.

If her testosterone levels are higher than the average female, does that automatically mean she is not female (or does not qualify so as an elite athlete)? As another poster has said, a syndrome like PCOS can cause someone to have elevated testosterone levels but is definitely not an athletic advantage. In fact, women with PCOS have to work VERY hard to not be overweight, which would obviously not be a great thing for an athlete. Another point is that there are varying levels of testosterone in EVERY female. So if another competitor has especially low levels of testosterone, should she be allowed to take hormone replacements since it's "not fair"? I would imagine that many if not MOST elite female athletes are at least at the high end of normal for androgen levels. There is no way to make that playing field completely level. It's just not feasible. Some women are "blessed" (take that as you will) with higher levels of male hormones and that doesn't make them not female. Do you have to set an arbitrary cut off point? Anyone over THIS level of testosterone is not female?!

All that being said, there are a multitude of tests being conducted on Caster, many more than just checking external genetalia and hormone levels. BUT, if she were to meet the requirements simply for THOSE TWO THINGS, isn't she then AT LEAST as female as a male-to-female transgendered athlete? So then she should be allowed to compete, no matter what her chromosomes or internal sex organs might be.

I'm not saying that for sure she WILL 'pass' on those criteria, but as I said before, I'm not sure that a person's NATURAL level of hormones should discriminate them from competing as their recognized gender. It would be a different story if she were doping or otherwise artificially increasing her level of androgens but if that's her natural level then I guess she was naturally blessed with a predisposition to be a world class (female) athlete.

I don't doubt that these tests they are running will probably exclude her. I'm just saying that they shouldn't.

Anonymous said...

Some vocabulary to help...

1.) Intersexed
A term used for humans who share characteristics of males and females. An umbrella term for persons who do not fit into a gender bionary.

2.) Hermaphrodite
is a term to express intersexed characteristics in ANIMALS (not humans).

3.)Gender Identity or Core Gender Identity)
The gender(s), or lack thereof, a person self-identifies as. It is not necessarily based on biological fact, either real or perceived, nor is it always based on sexual orientation. The gender identities one may choose from include: male, female, both, somewhere in between ("third gender"), or neither.

4.)Gender Variant or Gender Variance
Gender Variance is a term that refers to those expressions of gender (masculinity and femininity) that do not conform to the dominant gender norms of Western culture.

5.) FTM
an acronym for "Female To Male"; a term widely used to express the gender transformation of a person formerly female gendered identified who now identifies as male due to either 1.) personal identity 2.) use of hormones and/or 3.) surgery.

6.) Gender Taxonomy
The gender taxonomy is a classification of the range of different levels at which humans vary in sexual characteristics. It is mainly used by medical specialists working in the area of sex research

7.) Testosterone
All humans (male and female) carry two forms of testosterone in their body: 1.) and 2.).

8.) HRT
An acronym for "hormone replacement thearapy".

9.) XX
Chromosomal expression for females.

10.) XY
Chromosomal expression for males.

11.) XXY or Klinefelter Syndrome
Chromosomal expression for people with Klinefelter Syndrome. It occurs as a random event during cell division early in fetal development often resulting in either an extra X chromosome or many. Females cannot get Klinefelter Syndrome even though some people with Klinefelter Syndrome appear to be female. (IE: Jamie Lee Curtis, a celebrity w/ Klinefelter Syndrome.) There are varying degrees of Klinefelter Syndrome some Klinefelter males may have breasts (Gynecomastia), fat distribution like that of females, feminine facial features, small/undistended/ or no testes, light to non existent body hair, may a micro penis or ambiguous genitalia, etc.

12.) XO (XO Syndrome) or Turners Syndrome
Chromosomal expression for people with Turners Syndrome. Turners Syndrome occurs when one of the two X chromosomes normally found in women is missing or incomplete. Although the exact cause of Turner syndrome is not known, it appears to occur as a result of a random error during the division (meiosis) of sex cells. Males and females can have Turners Syndrome. There are varying degrees of Turners Syndrome, some people have mild characteristics such as short stature, having secondary sex features of the opposite sex, ambiguous genitalia, or can have more extreme traits such as deformity often paired with disabilities either of a mental, developmental nature.

Anonymous said...

13.) SRY Gene (Sex-determining Region Y) or Swyer Syndrome
This protein is the testis determining factor (TDF), also referred to as the SRY protein, which initiates male sex determination. Mutations in this gene give rise to XY females with Gonadal Dysgenesis (Swyer Syndrome); translocation of part of the Y chromosome containing this gene to the X chromosome causes XX male syndrome.

Effect upon anatomical sex:

Since its discovery, the importance of the SRY gene in sex determination has been extensively documented:

* Humans with one Y chromosome and multiple X chromosomes (XXY, XXXY etc.) are usually males.

* Individuals with a male phenotype and an XX (female) genotype have been observed; these males have the SRY gene in one or both X chromosomes, moved there by chromosomal translocation. (However, these males are infertile.)

* Similarly, there are females with an XXY or XY genotype. These females have no SRY gene in their Y chromosome, or the SRY gene exists but is defective (mutated).

*Individuals with XY genotype and functional SRY gene can have a female phenotype, where the underlying cause is androgen insensitivity syndrome (AIS).

14.) AIS (Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome) or Androgen Resistance Syndrome or CAIS (Complete Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome)

AIS is a set of disorders of sex development caused by mutations of the gene encoding the Androgen Receptor. Most forms of AIS involve variable degrees of undervirilization and/or infertility in XY males and XY females.
People with CAIS are generally female with internal testes, 46,XY karyotypes, and normal female bodies by external appearance with some exceptions. The vagina is not as deep, and there are no ovaries or uterus— hence no menses or fertility. Gender identity is usually female.
Patient advocacy groups for AIS, CAIS, and other intersex conditions have increased public awareness of these variations, helped revise the understanding of gender identity, emphasized the value of accurate and sophisticated information for patients, and induced physicians to re-evaluate the effectiveness of the surgical corrections attempted in past decades. Surgery is increasingly seen as an elective option even for the more ambiguous conditions.

15.) Hypogonadism
Low Testosterone or "Low T". a medical term for a defect of the reproductive system that results in lack of function of the gonads (ovaries or testes). The gonads have two functions: to produce hormones (testosterone, estradiol, antimullerian hormone, progesterone, inhibin B), activin and to produce gametes (eggs or sperm). Deficiency of sex hormones can result in defective primary or secondary sexual development (physical "look"), or withdrawal effects (e.g., premature menopause) in adults. Defective egg or sperm development results in infertility. The term Hypogonadism is usually applied to permanent rather than transient or reversible defects, and usually implies deficiency of reproductive hormones, with or without fertility defects. The term is less commonly used for infertility without hormone deficiency.

Char said...

Another point that a few other people have touched on but I think is worth reiterating... many of these chromosonal and hormonal disorders are things that could impart an athletic advantage, but without necessarily causing a "male" appearance such as Caster. So if they are testing her, then they should be testing everyone. Otherwise, are you making the case that EVERYONE with a condition causing them to be somewhere between male and female has an athletic advantage over females? What if you did a survey of every elite athlete, and found that in fact, intersexed athletes or those with male secondary sex characteristics, are no more likely to become world record holders than entirely female athletes. (per capita of course) What if there have been, say 1000 athletes that fall into the "somewhere in between" category and only 2 of them have become champions. But there have been 1000000 female athletes and 3000 of them have become champions. Then you would have to infer that there's actually a DISADVANTAGE to being intersexed/not completely female. Actually, to have an completely acurate picture of whether it's an advantage, you'd have to do a random sampling of the population (both athletes and non) and statistically analyze the results. You're inferring that there is some advantage to it without scientific evidence to prove that. The fact is there are many many people in the world who fall into this 'middle' category and the likelihood of eventually seeing one of them become a high class athlete is high, simply because eventually it had to happen!

So what if you did a test and discovered that HALF of all the elite female runners had some secondary male characteristics, enough to make them somewhere between male and female? Do you then disqualify all of them and open up the female field to substandard runners? I think on your basis of "secondary sex characteristics" - long strong bones, muscle mass, hormone levels... then yes, every single elite female athlete is "more male" than the average female.

And the assertion that if you were to let Caster compete as a female, then EVERY top female athlete would end up being intersex or a hermaphrodite is ludacris. The time and energy and dedication it takes to become an elite athlete, either as a male, female or somewhere in between is phenomenal. Just because intersex people are ALLOWED to compete as females, if that's how they identify, does not mean that suddenly all of them are going to start training for the Olympics. Honestly, the average man doesn't have a hope in he11 of running as fast as ANY of the women at that level.

Anonymous said...

A hormone in males and females that exist in two categories. Both are simultaneously in males and females.

1.) Free or Free-Floating Testosterone:
The Free- Floating or Nonprotein Bound testosterone is the hormonally active form of Testosterone which is able to interact with cellular hormone receptors. Women's ovaries and adrenal glands produce some testosterone (and DHT) though usually in lesser amounts though not conclusively. Technically, Free Testosterone is very difficult to measure accurately.

2.) Bound or Static Testosterone: Testosterone-bound SHBG is considered biologically inactive. SHBG levels are sensitive to changes in Estrogen and Testosterone. Thus conditions which affect SHBG will directly affect the serum levels and biological activity. That is to say, it is constantly changing and unstable.

Anonymous said...

Basically, regardless, there is no specific test that can accurately determine your gender or sex.

This is an uncomfortable subject amongst those who are threatened by the implications of such a reality.

Truth be told, the idea of the sexes is almost as tired as that of "is the world flat or round"...

It's beyond the "perception" when science is there to sear through the imagined divide...

What we really need to do is accept that despite a few exceptions, a large proportion of humans are biologically related far more than the secular public would like to imagine and the idea of only 2 sexes is destined to go the way of the Dinosaurs.

Anonymous said...

i'm not into sports at all or anything and i feel horrible for her, she is a girl.. She looks masculant but you can tell she is a girl.. This is humiliating for her.

Anonymous said...

If you don't restrict entry, there's no point in having "women's" sports. And if there are no women's sports, there will be very, very few female athletes and virtually no women playing teams sports at all. This is just a harsh reality that excludes some from competition. But many more of us are excluded by other physical disadvantages, so it's not that different. It's just too bad these tests aren't more widely available at younger ages, before people have put so much into the sport.

Mic said...

It is unfortunate when discussing issues like this that there are always people who will play the racism card when trying to defend their position. A couple of the commenters even attempted to take the misogyny angle, as if that were relevant.

I think part of the problem is our natural human instinct to categorise and make a clear division between male and female. I watched a documentary some time ago about childhood development and one part of the doco discussed the age at which children start to make gender distinctions as part of developing their own gender identity. It was interesting how critical the children were of things that did not align with their gender model of how men and women should look and behave. It is in part due to the cultural environment in which they are raised but it seems highly probable that there is an underlying genetic drive.

Because we make such a clear division between men and women we often forget that we dwell somewhere within a gender spectrum. At one end of the spectrum you have highly masculine traits and at the opposite end you have highly feminine traits. Most of us occupy a space distinctly on the male or female side of the spectrum within a tolerable range of variation to make the gender distinction clear cut. I do not envy the people who are called upon to make a judgement about an athletes gender, when the athlete is one of the rare few who lies much closer to the centre of the male/female gender spectrum.

Just to pose a moral dilemma: I wonder if people would have the same sympathies if we were talking about an athlete who was raised male, had male sex organs but felt they possessed enough female characteristics to allow them to compete as a woman? Somehow, I don't think people would be so quick to talk about racial or gender discrimination under those circumstances.

MyFriendShane said...

Poor Caster, a human being above anything else; and a child that deserves to be treated with more respect than this.

Any questions should have been resolved beforehand.

She is our world champion and I am proud of her achievement.

The day that we start saying someone is not a woman, because she has different chromosomes, to a Sandton Poppie - is the day that Hitler sits grinning in his grave.

If it has a cookie, its a girl

Unknown said...

This the kind of idiocy that gives Africans and blacks a bad name.

First of all, the head of South African Athletics is a thoroughly degenerate crook with no integrity whatsoever. He's a 55 year-old married man with four kids whose text messages to his 21-year-old secretary go on about ejaculating in her, etc.

Secondly, absolutely everything we know about Caster indicates he's male. This is not a case of SA Sport providing evidence that indicates Caster is female and that evidence being challenged, this is a case of SA Sport telling the world an athlete who looks, talks and acts like a boy is actually a girl and that anyone who disputes this is racist.

It's a case of SA Sport telling the world that common sense is racism, that whenever SA authorities are challenged that's racism, that even when the tests come back showing Caster is a male, that will be racism too.

That's how idiotic this whole disgraceful episode is.

The idiocy at work here is so deep it boggles the mind. Are we to believe South African parents routinely give girls boy's names? If not, how do these nincompoops explain a girl named "Caster"?

There is no controversy here, just a bunch of idiots in South Africa trying to perpetuate a fraud.

I'm an African American and I'm shamed by this attempt to introduce Voodoo into international athletics. We all should be.


Unknown said...

Ric, your arguments don't hold much water. You have two groups of people here:

1) People who thinks she is a man because her build and her face is not very feminine.

2) People who thinks she is a women because she has female genitalia.

Seem pretty clear to me that the 2nd group is less idiotic than the first. At least we have some facts on which we base our conclusion.

The real idiots are the people who cast her out based on no evidence whatsoever.

It is also pretty stupid to think that someone who deliberately tries to cheat would not change their name. That would be the first thing that any such person would do.

I don't accept that ASA is the main culprit in this story. Berlin is not the first time that Castor competes in an IAAF meeting. The IAAF could have initiated testing long ago. They suggested testing after the African Junior championships, but they clearly stated that it wasn't compulsory testing. Therefore ASA didn't have to test her if they believed her to be female.

The IAAF brought this controversy to its sport. If you think about it you will realize that athletics cannot win, regardless of the outcome. These tests should have been done away from the public and the media. There wouldn't have been any drama had that been the case. Therefore the IAAF is to blame for this situation. People are just trying to shift the blame.

I will be the first person to admit that ASA is a pathetic administrative body, but in this case the IAAF proofed to be even more pathetic.

Anonymous said...

Axel from London said...

Some of the posters on here seem to be taking a rather liberal attitude with regards to the legitimacy of a 'woman' with secondary male characteristics being allowed to compete in a female event.

So lets take that argument to it's full extent and scrap the division of sport on a gender basis all together! let the best female shot putters compete against the best men, and so forth. Then their is no need to determine gender.

What do you think the results would be? I'll tell you; we destroy women's athletics for the sake of a very small minority of athletes who happen to have some rare congenital defect.

You think that's fair? Now maybe you'll appreciate the need to make a distinction.



Unknown said...

Axel, I don't think anybody here doesn't want to make a distinction between male and female athletes. I do however feel that if it is to be determined by such a complex process (with many grey areas) then all female athletes should undergo this testing as others that appear female might have hidden male characteristics as well.

Anonymous said...

The problem is, she looks like a man, put her next to any other 18 year old girl, and the difference is very clear. Her parents made the wrong choices and made her a girl, I feel sorry for her, but the tests should have been done years ago, when everybody strated asking questions when she was still running as an u/17 girl. Why is it that the girls that ran with her could not drop there times with nearly 12 seconds in one year? She ran a 2.10 2008 at the ASA championships, and Oct 2008 she ran a 2.07, 12 sec from Oct 2008 to Aug 2009... no girl can do that... just think about it... I know she is the victim here, but who mdae her the victim, Athletics South Africa!!! they did not do their homework, and now that child is going to have the scars for the rest of her life!!!!

Unknown said...

Hi Anon. What make you say that her parents had to choose between raising her as a girl or as a boy? It is just media speculation that she was born inter sex. There is no factual evidence of that whatsoever. Most parents raise babies that are born with female genitalia as girls and I'm sure very few of them have their babies tested to make sure that they are in fact female.

I have a few counter argument for yours regarding the improvement on her PB:

1) Is it normal for male athletes to improve their PB by such a margin in such a short time? The answer is no, so we have to look beyond gender for that answer.

2) Caster grew up in rural Limpopo. The house in which she lived doesn't even have electricity, toilets or running water. Do you think she had professional coaching or access to training facilities??? After school she went to tukkies and now trains at the High Performance Center with excellent coaches and world class facilities. This is far more likely to be an explanation for the improvement in PB than gender.

Anonymous said...

Dirk, you do not know Caster's story... I do. And like I said it is very sad that ASA did not look after her as an 18 year old, they just thought of themselves and send her into a very cruel athletics world. Yes she did won the gold medal, but what if the tests shows that her gender is male, what is going to happen to her then, everybody is going to judge her, and she is going to loose everything. She is only a kid, 18 years is not a grown up. And ASA used her to get a "gold Medal" the first in years.

Anonymous said...

What happened to EQUALITY? Is she has to be tested, then all women should be tested. I bet there are MANY OUT THERE COMPETING THAT ARE NOT "ENTIRELY FEMALE"

Anonymous said...

A person can be of male sex but female gender? What nonsense! Castor is a man, can't you see that? Good grief!

Mike said...

About her improvement. Such an improvement is perfectly possible if she is a hormonally a man and starts training really hard. 1m55s is nothing extraordinary for an 18year old man, because there is still a 8s room before he runs 1,47, which is world class for this age. However, to improve by 10s towards the widely assumed limit in a year is impossible. Simply no way. There is simply no way she is hormonally a woman. If the IAAF takes it as a reason for disqualification is another question.

Frans Rutten said...

To Anonymous 20 August 2009 11:31

I would not consider her dramatic improvement in performance coincidinge with her moving from the village - no running water or electricity and possibly no coaching, training facilities or proper nutrition - to the University with a coach, world class facilities and all the other improvements, as a pro argument.
We're talking here about the most basic property of the human race, developed over million of years.
Her ability to run isn't so dependable of environmental and other issues.

Unknown said...

Anon, I wouldn't judge her even if the tests shows that she is a man. Seems to me like every second person KNOWS her story. Until somebody comes out with some facts I'll take is all as speculation.

Mike, I trained with a 17 year old boy who improved his PB over the 400m hurdles by 2 seconds in a months time. His PB was already world class even before the improvement. Should he be banned because the improvement was too incredible to be true..? The big improvement on her PB doesn't prove anything in terms of her gender.

Ross Tucker and Jonathan Dugas said...

Hi All

Just a quick response on this issue of ASA vs IAAF and accountability.

I must point out, very important, that the IAAF requested a report from ASA on July 31, which was immediately after Semenya ran 1:56 in her race. No doubt their curiosity has been raised by the sudden improvement in her performance, which I believe to be fair. Any athlete would raise questions.

Add to that the fact that it has been known in South Africa that something was up, and that this problem would arise, and the IAAF respond entirely as they should.

I don't know what else people would like the IAAF to have done. Many have said that they brought this on themselves, but I wonder what the alternative was? As far as I can tell, they sent a request to ASA for a report as soon as the problem become a possibility.

ASA, on the other hand, are the "guardian" of the athlete, and knowing that others were suspicious, having previously received complaints, their responsibility was to look after the athletes.

That's why I say that ASA have let Semenya down - they knew the situation, they'd been asked for a report and they were acting on it.

I won't repeat all the possible scenarios here, but basically, it boils down to being either lazy about doing the testing, or incompetent doing the testing, or they have been corrupt in covering up truth. But it's one of those three, because if they had done the right testing, and delivered a report saying Semenya was in the clear, there'd be no problem.

So it's safe to say they did not, and instead, we have this doubt around her sex, yet she was still sent, despite the doubt.

Worst case scenario - she was sent even though they had reason to suspect that there would be a problem. That is disgraceful.

The IAAF have not done anything wrong - the leak of the testing is unfortunate, and if it is their fault, then I would say they must take some blame. However, I'd still love to know what they should have done differently...

ASA, on the other hand, could have done things very, very differently.


Frans Rutten said...

To Dirk 21 August 2009 11:05 AM

"2) Caster grew up in rural Limpopo. The house in which she lived doesn't even have electricity, toilets or running water. Do you think she had professional coaching or access to training facilities??? After school she went to tukkies and now trains at the High Performance Center with excellent coaches and world class facilities. This is far more likely to be an explanation for the improvement in PB than gender."

Just for the sake of argument. Suppose she didn't take her running or training at all seriously and had no clue what soever how to run a 800m properly.

That would narrow her time-frame to almost zero, given also the time-out she took. Is that what the Germans a few decades ago meant by the phrase: "Rekorde aus der Retorte" or in plain english: "Records and therefore champions conceived in the laboratory".

Mind you further. One of the most circumstantial factors casting doubt to weird exceptionnel performances is a narrow timeframe.

Reproductivity is a much more steady element of maximum performance than most people can imagine.

Unknown said...

Ross, I dont agree with your view on the IAAF's responsibility. With drug testing athletes can be banned if they refuse to take the test. Similarly the IAAF could have set an ultimatum that if Caster was not tested before Berlin then she would not be allowed to compete. Especially since it is important enough for them to have brought it up on the day of the final. They should have set an ultimatum or left it until after the championships.

I repeat again that I'm fully aware of the incompetencies in ASA, but that does not mean that ASA should take responsibility for the poor way in which the IAAF is dealing with this issue.

Unknown said...

Frans. You make a good point about the narrow time frame, however I feel that it is less applicable to an athlete that hasn't matured yet.

If a reasonably mature athlete, say 24, makes such a dramatic improvement in such a short time frame it would be extremely suspect. However during junior years athletes go through dramatic physical changes with high hormone levels, fast growth etc. You often see school athletes making big improvements during a single calendar year. If you combine late physical development with a big change in facilities, training etc. then you could get such a big improvement in such a short period of time. Of course the athlete must have an incredible talent.

Frans Rutten said...

As to Jonathan Edwards.

I just did a 5 minute back of the enveloppe "Performance Analysis".

He stepped up/sped up in his 13th training year from 17,39m (1994), PB of 17,44m in 1993, to 18,29m in Gothenburg.

He had a real longevity record.

His last triumph at 36 was a 17,86m jump in the Commonwealth Games in Manchester 2002. At 37 he retired with 17,61m.

His sprint records don't show any sign of his extraordinarely short sprint ability.

Frans Rutten said...

To Dirk

I think, sorry, this is misjudgement.

Even a 70 year old man or woman, would if being solid healthy make dramatic improvements given the same situation. But oh wonder at what level.

Even genius like children in other fields have to practice tens of thousands of hours in practising before there really at their best.
Physical performance develops much along the line of physical implications that the human body, which in itself is a physical object, has to face in the natural world. Until of cause you enter other factors to the equation.

DrTim said...

So Frans, you've been reading Malcolm Gladwell's Outliers. 10,000 hours indeed.

And what about Semenya's birth date? 7th January 1991. A ha! She would have always been big for her 'age' ... i.e. she would have competed against people who were up to 350 days younger than her even though she was the same 'age' ...

Conspiracy theories aside, I do agree with Dirk and Ross ... IAAF was trying to be sensitive and couldn't have done much more ... except perhaps make the ultimatum that Dirk suggests. Still would never have been sorted in time though.

Anonymous said...

To All:

Let's assume that initally they will test Semenya for inappropriate testosterone levels (both males and females have testosterone).
Then, two things need to be proven -
FIRST, what needs to be found is whether Semenya possesses any functional testes (probably non-decended). She may not even know she has this condition.
SECOND, does her body block that testosterone as a normal female body does or does her body accept and use that testosterone as a male body does.
If it is proven that her body does have increased testosterone levels due to the presence of functional testes and that her body does, in fact, utilize that testosterone, then she must lose her championship and be barred from future competition as a female.
More importantly, let's not make this a bigger circus than it already is and let's bring this unfortunate situation to an end and allow women to move on with her life.

Glenn from Texas USA

Unknown said...

"I can tell you that they don't test unless someone files a protest, or there is grounds to test. They used to do testing on ALL women, but stopped that (rightly) because it was so degrading. So now, as I understand, it takes a protest to initiate testing."

If everyone was subject to testing it wouldn't be nearly as degrading. No woman would be singled out as seeming "not entirely female". As a woman I can tell you that there is nothing more insulting and degrading than to have something as important and personal as sex be questioned in front of the entire world.
That is what offends me about this entire situation, that this poor girl is in a situation where she is singled out and has to share these results, negative or positive, with the world.
How do you think that might effect her psychologically? What if she does discover that she has male characteristics and is deemed unable to compete? It's not her athletic career I am concerned about but her mental well being, her self esteem, her identity all being destroyed.

Anonymous said...

To Kimberly:

Excellent point! That is why a psychologist and other experts must be involved -- to help the victim. They aren't necessarily needed to prove the sex portion of the issue, but they are certainly needed from a humanitarian point of view.
Thanks for the female perspective.


Anonymous said...

This site provides interesting details on ais, which is the condition which many assert that Semenya may have:


Anonymous said...

Axel from London said...

Thanks Anon 21 August 2009 5:41 PM the article was very interesting and informative.

Having read it I am now convinced that Semanya DOESN'T have AIS. The physiology doesn't fit the profile indicators for a woman with AIS. She's neither especially tall and her muscular development would indicate that her body most certainly responds to testosterone and other masculizing hormones.

For me, and this is pure speculation and supposition, it would appear that she was born with unambiguous genitalia. In the rural environment she was born in someone would have made a decision on what gender she was and that's how she was raised. It would appear however that post puberty the wrong decision was made because he physical development, voice and mannerisms all point to 'her' being more masculine than feminine.

I would imagine that in poor rural communities across the world, that have no access to modern medical support, similar incidents of children born with ambiguous gender are more numerous than many would imagine. I suspect there are many people in such communities living as one gender, chosen soon after birth without the benefit of medical examination to help make an informed choice, that grow up to clearly exhibit traits of the opposite gender.


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...

The Women's Sports Foundation has an excellent commentary on gender testing in sport:

Adrian G said...

hmmm - surely the conclusive argument here is that her name is an anagram of : "Yes. A Secret Man"

Go check...


Anonymous said...

Genetic Identity...

I don't see where she has any options. There is no special olympics for hermaphrodites and she is not tone enough to compete against the males (even if her genetics shows some sort of male traits, that does not mean she is a man). It would be humiliating and a blow to her ego and pride as a woman.

If she were a man competing in the male competition and she broke the record, would they then test her for steroids or some unfair genetic advantage? Will people with too much testosterone not be allowed to compete in athletic events?

What exactly are we saying here? Are we saying that we need a third set of bathrooms? Are we adding a box on applications that say Male/Female/Other? What are the implications for society if we are going to start dissecting gender labels and genetically testing anyone who does well?

At the same time, I am not sure what the options are for the other women competing. Does it become a genetic competition for those whose genes fit the requirements? If you don't have a certain genetic make-up then you shouldn't compete because you can't win against the others? Do we count this as an exceptional, once in awhile occurrence, or does it change the face of competition in female athletics?

Where do we go from here...

Anonymous said...

Axel said...

to the last Anon poster, the option is not hers to make. If the tests reveal that Semenya is not "female" under the rules set down by the IAAF Semenya must be disqualified because of the unfair advantage over the other female competitors.

In response to your second question, yes males who break records or consistently winning championships are routinely tested. I would wager Usain Bolt is tested more than most at the moment.

I don't understand your last point about the necessity for a "other" gender option. The test are to determine if Semenya is female. if not female then by default Semenya must be considered male. Does "female/male with congenital abnormality" qualify as a gender?


dave said...

Leave the poor girl alone.

Anonymous said...

To Jackie G & Char

YES! PCOS, that's just what they say I have and have had and why I hurt for Caster. According to my endocrinologist this is not uncommon in women. An interesting study would be to follow up with elite female atheletes and have them tested for PCOS, I am fairly certain a large number if not all would test positive.

They should work harder to protect the athelete, these things should be anonymous, I hate she is being ripped to shreds by media speculation.

I also had the opportunity to run in the same conference and against (i was lapped) Maria Mutola and remember not so nice comments being made questioning her gender by parents and coaches in the stands, why? Because she was so much better. If she was 2nd I bet it never would've come up. Thank goodness i kept my hair long, fake nails and lipstick (FloJo was my idol) or i'm sure those tongue waggers would've talked about me too. My record(s) stand to this day, it's been over 17 years. People get really funny when someone is that much better.

The science behind all of this is fascinating but the reality is this is a person, not a number, not a statistic, not a machine and these things hurt and that hurt doesn't just 'go away' some of us trained harder to escape the pain of ridicule thinking if I destroy them on the field, they'll give me some respect.

Caster, her family and support team are all in my prayers.