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Friday, September 11, 2009

Mike Hurst speaks on Semenya

Journalist Mike Hurst speaks about the Semenya article: An outstanding interview

I've just been fortunate enough to catch an interview with Mike Hurst, the journalist who wrote the piece on Caster Semenya being a hermaphrodite in an Australian newspaper. This was the article that has been the catalyst for the latest round of allegation, accusation, denial and debate on the issue of the 800m world champion. I still think there are some inaccuracies in the article, some 'liberal' assumptions over the action the IAAF may take, but those were addressed earlier today. This is a post on sports management.

For those not in the know, Mike Hurst was the journalist who broke the story, and his interview to Radio 702 Eyewitness News is one of the best I've heard on this subject, by a long way (you need to click on "audio" on the video box on the righ of the page to listen).

Perhaps unencumbered by the political baggage and the minefield of allegations and anger, he spells out some truths that the authorities really do need to hear. I highly recommend that you give it a listen, it's honest, insightful and direct, particularly his views on how the issue has been managed. Sometimes, it takes someone from outside to point out the obvious...

The reaction in SA - "third world war"

Juxtaposed against this is the reaction to the issue within SA. Following the pattern set in the last few weeks, officials here have been scathing in their criticisms. We even got threats of "a third world war" today. Seriously , those were the exact words of our Minister of Sport who threatened a third world war if the IAAF tried to ban Semenya from competing. You can listen to his words at this site, on the right hand side if you click on "video" in the embedded box (there is also a text summary of the Mike Hurst interview I mentioned above, and of course the audio file of Hurst speaking about his article).

To quote the Minister of Sport in response to the allegation that Semenya is intersex:

“That means nothing. There are many hermaphrodites in the world so what does it matter. This girl is running as a girl who has been accredited as a girl. Nobody has questioned that. She doesn’t have a womb, so what?"
This might just rank right up there Leonard Chuene, President of ASA, calling scientists and universities "stupid" about two weeks ago, and it again betrays the complete lack of value that seems to be placed on facts, law and science in this case. Given that this blog was set up to try to provide some insight, this willful ignorance has to be mentioned. The fact of the matter is that it has to mean a great deal to the IAAF, and to the rest of the world's female athletes who run 800m, and to the sport as a whole. It matters a great deal, and unfortunately, South Africa is not the only nation that the IAAF thinks about. Much like 4-year olds who don't perceive that other people's needs exist, we have yet again adopted a position that says a great deal about professional sports management in this country.

The ethics of sex verification - a very valid argument

One can very well argue the issue and the ethics of sex verification testing, as many of you have done. Should we even bother? That's a separate question altogether, and there is a very real case to be made for allowing athletes to compete with any intersex condition, and many have made this point very well. Personally, I believe the line between male and female must be defended and so you cannot simply allow any condition under the guise of "she's just lucky in sport, in the same way as Usain Bolt or Michael Phelps is lucky in sport". I am afraid that doesn't wash with me - the difference between male and female categories, and the requirement for fair competition necessitates that extreme cases (and this may be one) are handled as serious by the governing body.

Disdain for process and mismanagement

However, to dismiss the whole issue as meaningless and to say that she should run as a girl because she has been accredited that way (by ASA, who wanted a gold medal and thus have a strong incentive to adopt this position, I might point out) is so disingenuous, it beggars belief. Also, in response to his statement "nobody has questioned that" - I'm afraid they very much have, and that is the issue.

This case seems destined to drag on and on, heading almost certainly for the CAS. And just for the record, I certainly don't wish to defend the violation of confidentiality that must sit, surely, within the IAAF, based on Hurst's reports. One leak was bad. A second, so soon after, that's a grave error and we've heard that 8 cases like this have been handled in the last 4 years. This should have been the ninth, dealt with confidentially, but Semenya was let down by the IAAF on that front, no question.

However, from within SA, the accusations and the complete disdain for process has done only harm, and I can only echo Mike Hurst's sentiments in his interview, where he suggested to ASA that they really should co-operate with the IAAF on this, and stop fighting ignorantly against what seem to be slowly emerging facts. At the very least, the human rights violations that ASA are so quick to accuse the IAAF of may be even more serious from them. Mike Hurst spoke about "games being played by ASA" - these are some serious games to be playing.

ASA should adopt a position supporting Semenya, condemning the leaks in confidentiality through the media (not the entire process) and then respect the authority and the scientific process being undertaken.

And time will reveal how ASA managed this situation before Berlin, which is where the real questions should be asked.



Anonymous said...

As an individual somewhat involved in South African elite sport this hole debacle has made me incredibly pessimistic about our nations future chances of success on the world stage. These chances, and the hopes and dreams of groups and individuals such as myself are very clearly in the hands of people that are not sufficiently equipped for their jobs. In a word they are incompetent, they are clearly uneducated with regards to matters which concern their posts!

What would the stance of our government be if the roles were reversed. If a hypothetical, legitimately female (what ever that might be at this stage) Semenya had placed second behind a Caucasian European exhibiting the same characteristics that Semenya exhibits now, what would their stance be then ? It boggles the mind that our government and sporting officials coming from the back rounds that some of them have with the regards to the struggles that they fought through during the dark days of South African politics, have not an ounce of empathy in their bodies. Your statement eluding to the fact that our officials are acting like a 4 year old that can not comprehend the needs of anyone other then their own, hits the nail right on the head!

The longer this fiasco (and by fiasco I am referring to the means in which our government and the ASA have and are handling the situation) continues, the more my faith in this countries abilities to produce world class performances wane.In any other country were merit is the determining factor behind whether someone is placed in a position of power such as the ones Mr. Chuene and Mr. Stofile find themselves in, heads would roll due to the manner in which these two have conducted themselves and the state in which their respective "houses" are in! Unfortunately there is very little, if any, accountability in the upper echelons of South African sport.This is most certainly one of the single biggest diabilitating factors behind our countries woeful showings in elite sports. With people such as Chuene and Stofile running the show there should really not be any questions asked when we walk away from an Olympic Games with a single medal! By our government assigning individuals like the above mentioned to the posts that they occupy, they are giving permission for our country to under-perform and to embarrass all South Africans on the worlds elite sporting stage!

Anonymous said...

Well, the quite literal bellicose talk coming from the political leadership today is going to play poorly outside RSA and not much better within. Dare I say it, the last time the local politicos were so wrong footed on a sporting issue was their stand on Basil d'Oliveira.

Unlike then (when it was declared anything but racial), this is not a racial issue. It is a porcine one, as in pigs riding around in limousines en route to the trough of plenty.

With the Basil d'Oliveira affair, there were unintended consequences.
I can bet you that Irwin Khosa and Danny Jordaan are united in their hoping, genug is genug, and would the politicians just this one time stop their grandstanding.

Or else FIFA will have its casus belli

Colenso said...

If one steps back a wee bit from the fray, one thing that this story illustrates is the importance of choosing our words carefully and defining our terms. I have already commented on the incorrect use of the label gender vs sex by reporters in the mainstream media. I think it's also worth teasing out carefully the meaning of the term hermaphrodite that Mike Hurst has now chosen to introduce into the story about Semenya.

The name Hermaphrodite comes from the classical Greek myth of Hermaphrodite. The mythical Hermaphrodite (from the name Hermes, the Greek God, and from Aphrodite, the Greek Goddess) possessed a full set of fully apparent sexual organs of both sexes. (What the versions of the myth leave open is if all the sex organs were also fully functional, that is if Hermaphrodite had demonstrably conceived, carried, bore and suckled a healthy human infant AND had fathered a healthy infant). As far as I know, there has not been one irrefutable case of a true hermaphrodite meeting the latter (very demanding) standard. Such a standard for a true hermaphrodite is considerably more demanding of course than that found in the current medical literature, which generally only requires that:

True hermaphroditism in humans is defined as the simultaneous presence of both testicular and ovarian tissue in a single individual (Naito K. Nippon Rinsho. 2004 Feb;62(2):300-4).

Hurst may be using the label of hermaphrodite in accordance with the currently accepted medical nomenclature, but I'm not sure that this helps the unfortunate Semenya in any way or answers the question of whether or not Semenya should have been allowed to compete as a female. Does being a hermaphrodite, per se, confer an unfair advantage over one's fellow competitors? If not, what's the relevance of Hurst's revelation here?

I accept that the label inter-sex probably doesn't sell copy in the same way that hermaphrodite is likely to. Nevertheless, perhaps media commentators should follow the example of The Science of Sport and stick to the label inter-sex whatever medical tests may reveal about Semenya's anatomy.

Colenso said...

To answer my own rhetorical question, I suppose that the advantage for a competitor of having testicular tissue is that their testosterone levels are likely to be higher.

But, then we come back again to measuring serum testosterone levels, rather than focusing on the presence or not of testicular tissue.

So doesn't the principle of the matter simply return to the question, already debated here, over exactly what should be permitted as the cut-off for the level of testosterone measured in each athlete competing as a female?

Anonymous said...


What do you think of the ethics of the journalist who claims he is sorry for the athlete & yet oted for the path of personal glory. He chose to reveal priviliged information, obtained without transparancy, regardless of the effect it would have on the individual athlete.

I also see no harm in her supporters mounting a roboust, if unscientific, defense. She needs all the help she can get now. Think of the Murlidharan & the Sri Lanka chucking controversy. Ultimately the scientific view will prevail.

Anonymous said...

South Africa needs to get over itself. The rest of the world didn't fall for their scam. Boo hoo, no Pamela Jelimo dollars for you, Caster, so wipe the crocodile tears from your starry eyes. On the bright side, District 9 is doing big box office worldwide. Maybe you can star in the sequel.

Ross Tucker and Jonathan Dugas said...

Hi All

Thanks for the comments. One by one:

To Anonymous;

Well put. I agree wholeheartedly with you. Our failure to win medals is the consequence of this complete disdain for professional structures, accountability, expertise and people who know. Knowledge is secondary to history (personal history, that is),and excellence is last, way behind personal agendas, egos, money and who knows what else?

The Semenya issue has brought these things to the surface, that's all!

I have a plane to catch, I'll reply to all your other comments later!


Zoe Brain said...

Serum testosterone levels alone are meaningless, if you don't also consider the sensitivity or otherwise of the cellular receptors to the stuff.

A woman with CAIS could be injected with enough testosterone to change the Dallas Cheerleaders into the Dallas Cowboys, and it would affect her not one iota.

The difficulty arises when you have partial androgen insensitivity, coupled with high (but still 1/20 of male average) testosterone levels.

In such a situation, as here, the case should be treated on its merits. That there is an advantage is probable. That the advantage is greater than for other, allowable variations in the norm - such as PCOS - is not.

In any case, the decision should be based on objective and comparative measurements, not on politics.

I'm not optimistic though that this will be the case.

Ross Tucker and Jonathan Dugas said...

Hi Zoe

Thank you for that. Yes, you're right, the testosterone is pretty meaningless, because CAIS renders it ineffective anyway.

I suspect that if Semenya has AIS, it's definitely partial, given the physiological traits she has developed. Also, those testosterone levels could well be a little higher than only 1/20th of the male levels. My previous post looked at testosterone levels, and if Semenya is at say 8nmol/L, then she's only 1/5th of the HIGHEST male levels, and pretty much in the male range. So that is significant.

To what extent? Impossible to say for sure. I would say it could be considerably great than PCOS, depending on the condition of both - there'll always going to be overlap. How that is established, I don't know. I see that the IAAF had asked 4 runners to stop their careers in the last few years, and I wonder on what basis that was? 7 women had AIS in Atlanta and were allowed to run.

So time will tell. One thing is for sure, it should be objective, evaluated on the evidence, and like you, I see little chance of it being accepted. Certainly, the IAAF, with threats of lawsuits over them, will take care, but the verdict won't be accepted here in SA.

Of course, one final thing is that all of this may well be irrelevant, because Semenya would have to get the testes removed, and that means that she can compete without any advantage - if she continues to dominate, good for her. If not, then we know the answer. So the medical priority may well address whether she can compete or not...


Anonymous said...

SA seems to only care about THIER female athlete, and not about OTHER females athletes..If Semenya Caster were allowed to continue to run in female races, it would be such an injustice to the rest of the field.The races would be a farce..
While myself, and much of the world, feels bad for this young,innocent person, there has GOT to be rules the promote fairness. -Jeff K. of Delaware USA

hello said...

This is one of the best sources for reading about Caster Semenya - thank you for your rational discussion.

However, I would like to add a few remarks about some of the negative comments. I think the handling of this has been appalling on ALL sides - the leaking of the misdirected fax and the leaking of the test results before discussion with Caster by those who SHOULD know better, and the probably justified emotional response by the South Africans that is not helping, but probably making matters worse for everyone involved.

As an ex-South African who saw the nastiness of apartheid, I can understand the extreme sensitivity shown by the supporters of Caster. My heart bleeds for her because she is such an outstanding athlete - and both she and her family know nothing about the various shades of grey when it comes to gender/sex matters. They need intensive consultation, support and therapy so that something can be salvaged from this. I think Caster is a young, confused teenager and needs all the help she can get. I only hope she is getting support, an explanation of gender/sex, and the fact that there may be options for her.

If there were a support site, I would gladly wish her well.

Alan said...

South African Sports Maangement is a joke and what we are seeing here doesn't bode well for the World Cup next year I am afraid.

Shawn said...

You emphasized in bold your belief that "I believe the line between male and female must be defended" -- but here's the thing from my POV: this line seems arbitrary. Why refer to intersexual states as "disorders" rather than naturally occurring conditions? Why insist on drawing a line that differs from how things really are in the world? I admit I don't have the same investment in the elite sports world where this binary seems so important, but I'm having trouble understanding this point of view. Genuinely, not disrespect intended though.

Colenso said...

Just read for the first time the earlier Science of Sport post which covers the topic of hermaphroditism in some detail.

Not sure how I overlooked that - but somehow I did! Obviously, in my comment here I've covered ground already previously covered in some considerable detail.

My apologies, then, if I appear to be returning irrelevantly to a topic that has already been extensively discussed.

Ross Tucker and Jonathan Dugas said...

Hi Deinandra

Thanks for the comment. You're right, all sides have let her down, and I have said quite frequently that the leak from within the IAAF was a major problem in all this, and so they should be held to account for it.

So it's not only the management here. But what is transpiring, and will become clear (I hope) in the next few weeks, is that local authorities had a lot of information on this long before she ever went to Berlin, but took the chance of sending her, knowing full well, under medical advice, that this might happen, and if that is true, then they've played a key part in all this.


Ross Tucker and Jonathan Dugas said...

Hi Shawn

Fair questions:

First, the reason I refer to "disorders" is because at the International Consensus Conference on Intersex conditions, they agreed to refer to "Disorders of Sexual Development" as responsible, so that's kind of the accepted term now. So I'd say Intersex CONDITION, but the cause is a DISORDER or DSD.

As for the line, you're right about that, and that is a difficult question to answer. One could ask, for example, how people would perceive this if they were NOT the person in question? In other words, what do all the other female competitors make of it? Do they want that line?

The reason this is important is because if you are going to say this line is arbitrary, then you have to get rid of it. You either defend it or remove it. If you remove it, then the problem is this: females run against males. And the argument is that some people are born with an athletic advantage - they are also called males. Others are not so lucky, they are females.

This is not fair for females, and so that's why the line has to be there. The tricky part is deciding how to make it less arbitrary.

My opinion on this is that if a person has higher than normal levels of testosterone (which I posted on the other day - three days ago I think), then they can reasonably assumed to have some advantage that is NOT NORMAL, unless they have complete AIS. They should not be allowed to compete against females, because their advantage is 'unphysiological', in that it differs from the advantage that my friend has over me when we cycle (unless of course he is doping, but that's not true).

So I think the approach should be to look at the case, and if there is evidence of "pathological" testosterone, which would confer an advantage, it would be FAIR on all parties to prevent that person competing against women.

That's not a solution though, its my opinion!


Estelle said...

To Mike Hurst
You are quoted as saying ".. the information fell into my lap and I had to."
All I can say is: If you had sensitive news about a loved one in your family, would you also feel that you "had to" break the news on an international forum before your loved one was told in a caring, private way? If you had a daughter who had grown up in a rural area with no access to expensive medical testing, would this be the way you would tell her?

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Nguyen said...

It angers me why no one has addressed the derogatory comment left by the anonymous poster equating Caster as non-human in regards to the statement that she should star in district 9? These sort of sly comments are reflective of the ignorance and discrimination that Caster has to face, where others just snicker and or nod their heads as a joke.

No, I am not over reading the comment. It is very clear about the intent. Too often people just let it slide. Read some other web postings under news articles and you will find a huge amount of hate directed not at South Africa, not at IAFF, not at the scientists, not even at the media, but at Caster Semenya herself.

Many in this sport are so blindly focus on politics, science, and image that they forget she is a person. Rather then defending the line of male vs female, we should defend her as a person first. That will make the decision about this particular issue and future ones more clear.

As said, aside from chromosomal definition for sex, the gender definition is arbitrary and socially constructed. I am sure that can be battled all day.

I believe that in the hierarchy of the discussion, her needs and dignity should be priority. From that standpoint I am sure whatever decisions that may result and changes to protocol or rules, will at least guard the people involved. I am sure there will be similar cases in the future and more likely the athletes will be as young if not younger then Caster.

I am a big fan of track and field. But it is still just a sport I participate or watch for entertainment. This is her life that is being, yes, decided upon by others. And many are treating it casually as entertainment.

Zoe Brain said...

Nguyen - sorry, I didn't notice.

Speaking as someone who is Intersexed, and in a really rare and spectacular way (protandrous dichogamous pseudohermaphrodite), we don't notice this kind of thing, it's just background noise.

I have to keep on reminding myself that for those who are *not* Intersexed, it's not usual to be referred to as a deceiver, a freak, a non-human.

We have too much on our plate with genuine issues to do with health, with legal affairs, and a whole host of other things to worry about what some anonymous bigot says. If we paid attention to them all, we'd never get anything done.

Thanks so much though for coming to our defence. That's rare. And appreciated.

Tina said...


Just wanted to comment on this-

"...the reason I refer to "disorders" is because at the International Consensus Conference on Intersex conditions, they agreed to refer to "Disorders of Sexual Development" as responsible, so that's kind of the accepted term now. So I'd say Intersex CONDITION, but the cause is a DISORDER or DSD."

You may be unaware of this, but this change in terminology is *HIGHLY* controversial among the intersex population, who bear the brunt of this kind of gratuitous pathologization of their lives.

Central to this controversy is the fact that the decision to adopt this terminology was made not as a result of seeking input and consensus within the intersex community, but was in fact made with little if any input from real intersex people other than a handful of them whose opinions were aligned with medical "authorities"...the same medical "authorities" that have historically imposed their views and dubious treatment protocols on IS people without their consent- protocols that include non-consensual surgeries and hormone therapy, deliberately concealing and lying about people's medical histories (both to patients themselves and in public discourse), and who have often refused to acknowledge and treat related gender identity issues as part of being intersex, opting instead to further denigrate IS people whose birth assignments were incorrect as nothing but mentally ill transsexuals with a gender identity "disorder"....do you see a pattern here?

One would think that any group of professionals whose job is ostensibly to make the lives of intersex people easier would be able to come up with a less loaded term than "disorder"...

a "variation" in sexual development still gets the point across, but carries none of the negative, judgmental baggage implicit in the word "disorder"... "anomaly" works too.

So why on Earth would a consensus of medical professionals choose terminology that is inherently troublesome to many intersex people, that can so easily be used to cast them as "disordered" and in need of fixing?

It's no coincidence that this change in terminology comes directly on the heels of the internet revolution that allowed many IS people for he first time to research and understand these conditions that had previously been nearly unheard of, and had been in many cases deliberately hidden from those who might speak to what having them was REALLY like...


Tina said...

For the last decade or so intersex people have been organizing and challenging the nearly unchecked authority that the medical profession has traditionally assumed over their lives and bodies, fighting to end things like unnecessary genital surgery that serves only to assuage the sensibilities of doctors and parents but often leaves the IS person scarred for life both physically and mentally...and those invested in the status quo don't like it one bit and are doing everything in their power to disparage those intersex activists who refuse to be silent.

To that end, they have decided to unilaterally change the perfectly acceptable and descriptive terminology of "intersex"- not to something equally neutral like "variation" or "anomaly" of sexual development, but to one of the most unfavorable descriptors in their arsenal- a "disorder", which to the average person would seem to be something that no rational person would defend as being simply another way of being...

a "disorder" is something to be feared, to be tirelessly routed out and eliminated from the face of the earth if possible...it's also no coincidence that some of the movers and shakers in this push for DSD terminology are connected to neo-eugenics movements that would seek to eliminate not just intersex conditions, but by extension anyone who has one.

Problem is that many if not most IS people whose lives are not ruined by cavalier medical intervention are able to live as happy, healthy, productive, normal and boring people just like anyone else- something that doctors have been insisting for decades is simply not possible without their "help"...this notion is being shown to be utterly without merit, and to counter this paradigm shift, the credibility of the intersex activists speaking out is being attacked by changing the terminology so that they appear to be advocating for "disordered" children to be denied medical help for their "disorder".

I highly recommend that anyone who thinks that this change in terminology was an innocent attempt to clarify things read some of the material contained here-


-especially the entry titled "Ambiguous Medicine and Sexist Genetics: A Critique of the DSD Nomenclature", which challenges and discredits the DSD model and the ulterior motives behind it quite thoroughly.

Ross Tucker and Jonathan Dugas said...

Hello Tina

Thank you for that email. I was not aware of the controversy, you are correct. I used DSD because in my reading of the scientific literature, I came across a paper by Ritchie et al. which explained this change from "hermaphrodite" to intersex and DSDs, and that formed the basis for using disorder. I did not get the impression that they'd done away with intersex - my reading was that an intersex condition is caused by a DSD.

Certainly, your points are well taken, and yes, they might have used "variation" instead. I won't purport to know why they did not, whether it was intentional or not. I will say, in something of a defence of the medical community, that a "disorder" is medically defined as something that differs from the normal course of events. Which makes the term appropriate medically.

However, it's still insensitive to those with it, because of the english language connotations, and so I hear where you are coming from on that one.

So I will try to use variation or "different" from now on, unless I'm referring specifically to the position stand.

Thanks for the time to post - perhaps the one positive that will emerge from this is a broader understanding, and hopefully, acceptance that intersex conditions are more frequent than one would think, and that they are, to use your words not something "to tirelessly routed out and eliminated from the face of the earth if possible"


Anonymous said...

Nguyen, you don't really get it, do you?

I'm talking about the sequel!!

Ross Tucker and Jonathan Dugas said...

To Anonymous and Nguyen

Thought i'd step in here. I must be honest, I didn't pick up on the District 9 post when it was first posted. No excuses - it's because I didn't read all the posts in enough detail. I often wake up to find 40 posts in my inbox and I skim some of them.

Had I read it, I would have deleted it back then, because it was/is offensive. And while your follow up is that you were speaking about the sequel, the insinuation is still the same. This is not science-fiction, it's a very real issue, and I'd urge you to read some of the posts by Zoe on this and other threads to understand the huge impact of these cases on people.

So it was offensive, and also not accurate, because Semenya hasn't tried a scam here. I'm the first one to come down hard on ASA, as you'll have seen, I hope. But Caster Semenya, until facts show otherwise, did not try to pull anything, or to cheat, or to run a scam. The management of ASA were simply corrupt and incompetent, but Semenya was caught in the middle and now pays the price, so she doesn't deserve that insult.

Nguyen, thank you for raising it.


Tina said...

Hi again Ross,

Thanks for the response and for your consideration...

your point about the specific medical definition of "disorder" is well taken and "disorder" itself is in many respects an attempt at a more neutral term than "disease", but at the same time one has to acknowledge that what is deemed a "normal" course of events in human development- especially those situations associated in any way with "sex"- is a judgment often based on societal and religious beliefs and values that may have nothing at all to do with science, which would make those standards entirely inappropriate in the context of developing and applying medical terminology.

Of course the term "normal" itself is fraught with all kinds of implied value judgments, but I'm not going to beat you up over using it :)

But it bears considering that while using such terms does not automatically mean the speaker is making those judgments, in many cases that is precisely why that terminology is chosen...it is one thing, and accurate, to say that a particular medical "disorder" exists when some indicator deviates from the norm- but if someone's mental capacity is abnormally above average, no thinking person would expect to call this a "mental disorder" and expect it to be taken as simply a description of mental activity that deviates from the norm...and no thinking person would assume this to have been the intention of the person using such loaded terminology.

It must be noted that "disorder" in practice is never used to describe *anything* positive, despite the fact that "something that differs from the normal course of events" could be an absolute blessing with little if any downside.

I totally agree with your sentiments in the last paragraph of your post...sadly, it would seem that many people would seek the opposite and especially want to maintain the erroneous idea that intersex conditions are so rare as to not be of any real importance to all but a handful of people...to acknowledge IS as being anything other than an incredibly rare and dangerous disorder would require acknowledging that the whole binary ONLY model of sex and gender is fatally flawed, which would also require acknowledging that related gender identity issues are real, and not some choice or creations of people's "disordered" minds.

There's also the issue of how society could continue to impose heteronormative religious values on people who cannot be clearly defined as male or female...people who are essentially of mixed or indeterminate sex can't logically be denigrated and denied equal rights because of their "homosexual" desires and activities, and we just can't have that, can we?

Cameron said...


Check the above link. Semenya is on suicide watch. Hurst should be held responsible for his "this fell in my lap and I felt I had to address it." approach! I follow all the arguments - intersex, disorder, condition, politics...people, at the bottom of this mountain of rhetoric is a human being who has had their dreams, aspirations, hopes and their very identity ripped away from them because a reporer just HAD to reveal to the world what fell in his lap. She is now on suicide watch. What does a circular piece of metal attached to a ribbon mean when weighed against the value of a human life that has been all but destroyed? Or the politics,or whether one person runs faster than the other, or the endless stream of news vultures circling over head. At this point, it matters not whether Semenya is male or female...she or he is human, and broken hearted and dying inside. Look beyond the world of sports for a minute...As she or he, either, Semenya cannot have children - and maybe Semenya had not considered having children, but this is NOT the way to find out that the choice has been taken from you! - and any kind of a normal life is gone forever...when Semenya is 90 years old, THIS is what she/he will be remembered for. Walk - or run - a mile in Semenya's shoes, before dismissing the agony by spouting a ton of medical jargon and arguing about races and finish lines. Right now, I simply hope that Semenya finds the ability to survive. If you know of any sort of legitimate avenue to send Semenya cards, or best wishes or prayers, please post it here. That might do more good than arguing semantics. I do appreciate your careful writing and your willingness to listen to comments. Thank you very much!

Anonymous said...

The question of Semenya's gender must have come up before. How can a "woman" of 18 years old who has not had a period ( and has a deep vioce )not been examined by a doctor. Semenya has no ovaries therefore no estrogen. Semenya is basically a man with undesended testicles and a vagina. Semenya has many male characteristic: deep voice, masculine facial features, and muscularity. According to a South African track coach there is a differnce in running styles between a man an a woman and he stated that Semenya runs like a man and he added that without seeing Semenya that if you heard "her" speak you would think a man was talking. Semenya has only one female charateristic and that is a vagina. "She" does not have a uterus, ovaries and appears to have very little if any breast tissue.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous said:
"The question of Semenya's gender must have come up before. How can a "woman" of 18 years old who has not had a period ( and has a deep vioce )not been examined by a doctor"

Have you ever been to South Africa? Do you really know what you are talking about? Unfortunately, it's entirely conceivable that an uneducated person growing up in a seriously disadvantaged area could not have realised that there could be something wrong and it's entirely possible that she has never consulted a doctor about it. This girl has been failed by the ASA in so many ways. They should have noticed that there could be an issue, they should have dealt with it earlier, the IAAF have failed her, Mike Hurst has failed her. She is an 18 year old girl who has just found out that she can NEVER ever be a mother. That's huge. On top of being uncertain as to the future of her career, she now finds out that she can't have children irrespective of what choices she may have liked to make later on in her life. I don't understand how people can't see the person behind the sensational story!

Ross Tucker and Jonathan Dugas said...

Hi to the last 2 anonymous posters

First to Anon at 8.51pm

It's an interesting question, one which is largely answered by the second anonymous poster at 11.02.

The sad truth is that in SA, the health care system in the rural areas is so stretched that the level of medical advice likely available to the family might very well have prevented this from ever being picked up.

I may have mentioned this before (forgive if I have), but I was on a TV talk show this weekend, called House Call, which exists to discuss medical issues, and the topic was sex determination. One woman called in from a rural area in much the same situation as Caster Semenya's mother may have found herself in 2 or 3 years ago - she had a daughter with masculine traits and who had never menstruated.

But what was 100% clear is that without this TV show, and the media reports about this case, she would have had no avenue to ask about her 17 year old daughter. So the absence of menstruation, the masculine traits and so on might well have been noticed, but never acted on because of the 'vacuum' in knowledge and support - it's a real problem.

Where I then agree entirely with the second poster is that once she got into the athletics system, and had contact with doctors, it should have been treated. But it wasn't, and that's where I share your 'bewilderment', anonymous 1. It is astonishing that she got to within 3 weeks of Berlin, apparently without a single person either speaking up or noticing something.

I guess it's always difficult to raise the topic, but I really do think it could have been picked up, in a sports system that looks so closely after its athlete, its inconceivable to me that professional people would not have managed this better.

But in terms of growing up, understanding the implications of the physiology which we can claim to see easily, I can certainly see that it would be misunderstood.

Thanks both for interesting comments!

Zoe Brain said...

Napoleon Bonaparte said something relevant here:
"Never attribute to malice what is adequately explained by incompetence."

Stuff happens, things slip through the cracks... A thinks B's done it, B thinks A's done it, so it doesn't get done.

Anonymous said...

Right, "plausible deniability," the favored tactic of Bush/Cheney, et al. But, gosh, since Napoleon said it, it must be axiomatic.

Do you seriously think she and her family were unaware of the pile of dough Pamela Jelimo took home last year, never mind the Olympic gold medal? And that this played no part in her behavior? There is plenty of venality here to go around. The "innocent victim" theory really isn't bearing up too well.

Anonymous said...

I think it's really sad that people are saying that if Semenya can't run then it's racism, as it's as if they're saying black people should have extra rights and we should ignore the fact she has internal testicles. The South African sporting authorities knew Semenya might have a condition and if it wasn't something congenital it could have been something else that affects the hormones, so there's nobody to blame but the South African authorities for humiliating Semenya by not testing or if they did they didn't say that Semenya had an unfair advantage.

Anonymous said...

"I believe the line between male and female must be defended"

For me, this statement raises serious questions about sex and gender even outside the sporting sphere. Obviously there are people who are neither male or female, and in most arguments about the Semenya case there seems to be a complete disregard for this fact. Whet exactly is "the line between male and female" ? Obviously it is not as straight as you wish to believe. Should people who do not fit neatly into either side of this 'line' be ignored, shall we pretend that they simply do not exist? Do they not deserve rights as the rights afforded to humans are either those of men or of women?

Ross Tucker and Jonathan Dugas said...

Hi Anonymous

No, of course not, that would be ridiculous. Remember, this is a post about sport, and the specific situation that arose in Berlin. The line between male and female for sport must be defended, otherwise it makes a mockery of women's competition. Ask all the women athletes about that one if you need confirmation. If Semenya is allowed to continue running, no women will race, it will become farcical.

To extend that debate further and apply it outside the sphere of sport is an important, and difficult debate. But it's not relevant here, and I haven't commented on it. Of course every person has rights, but I believe that in sport, because we compete in categories of male and female, it's not simple to dismiss this as a matter of 'luck' or 'natural variation', which is where that quote came from.


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