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Semenya still under gender microscope
by Sam Worley
2009-10-01

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The question of whether or not South African runner Caster Semenya will be able to keep the gold medal she won in Berlin last month remains uncertain pending the official release of results of a series of "gender verification tests" she recently was forced to undergo.

Accusations that Semenya might have an unfair physical advantage among female athletes arose after her strong finish in last month's race; in response, the International Association of Athletics Federations ( IAAF ) launched an investigation.

Although leaks of the results suggest that Semenya, 18, may have a condition that causes her to produce high levels of testosterone, the IAAF has said that it will not officially address the question until it has more time to analyze the results. Representatives have said that the body will make a decision in November.

Semenya dropped out of a race in Pretoria on Saturday; her coach said that she was "not feeling well."

Official policy of silence notwithstanding, the Semenya controversy has been characterized by leaks and rumors from the beginning: the very fact of the investigation itself, in fact, was supposed to be secret according to IAAF policy. The IAAF confirmed the investigation only after members of the media asked directly about its existence.

As for the results, what's more surprising than their anonymous leak to the Sydney Morning Herald—one of the initial media outlets to publish them—is that individual members of the IAAF seem utterly willing to speculate on their implications. The IAAF's general secretary, Pierre Weiss, was quoted in a number of newspapers saying, "It's clear that she is a woman, but maybe not 100%."

Faced with the results of her daughter's tests—which included evaluations from a gynecologist, an endocrinologist, an internal medicine specialist, a psychologist, and an "expert on gender"—Semenya's mother tearfully told reporters, "What do you want from me, people? The process is not correct."

Cindi Creager, the director of national news for the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation ( GLAAD ) , told Windy City Times that the news reports were "unfair and premature speculation." GLAAD took particular issue with media labeling of Semenya as a "hermaphrodite," which Creager described as an "outdated, stigmatizing and misleading word, usually used to sensationalize intersex people."

She said that GLAAD was working to monitor media sources that cover the Semenya controversy, making sure to "correct problematic terminology and ensure that coverage avoids sensationalism."


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