Caster Semenya showed up to race in Stellenbosch, South Africa, this week and the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) wouldn’t let her run. Before we get into the specifics, let’s take a moment to appreciate the courage involved in her simple desire to compete. Imagine walking in the woods during hunting season dressed as a deer. Now you can understand what Caster Semenya has chosen to risk. She was inviting fire. The 19-year-old world record-holding runner arrived at Stellenbosch to announce her return to competitive running even though she was on suicide watch last fall. Even though she was the subject of many heartless attacks. Even though she was a bull’s-eye for every bigot in and out of the sports world.
Semenya’s "crime" is that, like millions of others, she might be intersex.
That is, she is suspected of having a common sex variation, which in her case may include internal testes and/or a chromosomal variation. Her incredibly fast times, the tenor of her voice and her musculature led to an antediluvian hysteria. After complaints from losing competitors and sports bloggers, Semenya was subjected to gender testing involving a gynecologist and an endocrinologist. And for some reason, a psychologist.
Unverified results of her gender tests were leaked to the press claiming that her body is gender-variant.
As Semenya said this week in a statement, this entire process led to an "unwarranted and invasive scrutiny of the most intimate and private details of my being." Despite submitting Semenya to a battery of tests on the belief that the controversy would be quelled, the IAAF never brought the process to a conclusion or released official results from the testing.
Perhaps they were hoping that the level of humiliation would force Semenya to recede from public view and the entire issue would go away. But instead, as Semenya said, she was withdrawing her "begrudging agreement" not to compete because the ordeal had "dragged on for far too long with no reasonable certainty as to their end."
She also said, "Some of the occurrences leading up to and immediately following the Berlin world championships have infringed on not only my rights as an athlete but also my fundamental and human rights, including my rights to dignity and privacy…. I am an athlete first and foremost and it is vital for my competitiveness, my well-being and for my preparations for events during the European summer that I measure my performance against other athletes."
Seven months after this young world-class athlete endured public torment, Semenya is back swinging with an elegant defiance that matches her prowess on the track.
Semenya said that "after three formal attempts by my legal advisers to make contact with the IAAF on my behalf, the IAAF had still not responded to my overtures. I requested my legal advisers to prevail upon the government to open negotiations with the IAAF by sending an emissary to negotiate a fair and equitable settlement of this matter…. The outcome of that lengthy process was the pronouncement that I was not guilty of any wrongdoing or cheating and that I was entitled to keep my gold medal, my prize money (which has now been paid to me) and my ranking as the number- one female athlete in the world over the female 800-meter event."