Caster Semenya a golden girl once more

The South African runner whose gender was questioned after her World Championship win gets to keep the medal

Published November 19, 2009 4:20PM (EST)

Sport and Recreation South Africa has released a statement saying that Caster Semenya -- the 18-year-old runner who took gold in the 800-meter World Championships last August, only to be subjected to gender testing and public speculation about her eligibility to compete as a woman -- will be allowed to keep her medal, title and prize money because she "has been found to be innocent of any wrong."

Furthermore, the statement says results of the International Association of Athletics Federations' gender testing on Semenya will not be made public, because it's nobody's damned business. "The implications of the scientific findings on Caster's health and life going forward will be analysed by Caster and she will make her own decision on her future. Whatever she decides, ours is to respect her decision." 

Although rumors that the IAAF had found Semenya to be biologically intersex emerged in September -- leading to intrusive, insensitive and plain ignorant headlines ("She's a man -- and a woman!") around the world -- as recently as Wednesday, the IAAF said officially that "medical testing of the athlete is still to be completed." Other than that, the organization has no comment. So the fact is, we have no facts about what the IAAF may or may not have found. And as the SRSA statement reminds us, we have no right to them, either.

The SRSA would have liked to hear something more from the IAAF -- something like, "Sorry we bungled this horribly and caused Semenya untold distress" -- but without evidence that someone inside the IAAF leaked confidential test results, the South African organization is ready to let it go.

We have asked the IAAF to apologise at the way the whole Caster Semenya saga was dealt with. Their response is: "It is deeply regrettable that information of a confidential nature entered the public domain." The IAAF is adamant that the public discourse did not originate with them.

We also cannot prove the contrary. It is our considered view that this chapter of blame apportioning must now be closed.

One might hope all this will put an end to the worldwide disregard for Semenya's privacy, but of course it won't. Mary Vallis of Canada's National Post responds to the latest news by lamenting that "after weeks of waiting, sports fans will not be getting the answers they are looking for." Aw, poor sports fans! How will they ever go on without knowing a stranger's medical test results? And certainly, Semenya's being allowed to keep her medal should by no means reassure sports fans that she earned it or anything. "But does she deserve that medal? Without answers, people are never going to stop talking," Vallis warns. Is it just me, or is the existence of gossipy jerks not actually a good reason to release a young woman's confidential medical information?

Maybe Vallis is right that people will never stop talking. But maybe we can be better than that. The SRSA statement ends with thanks to the law firm that "stepped forward pro bono when the need to protect the rights and dignity of our golden girl arose," and to "South Africans (old and young, black or white) who showed solidarity and support for our daughter." In other words, thanks to those who have kept in mind that regardless of whether she's biologically a woman, Semenya is first and foremost a human being -- a very young human being who's endured an extraordinarily public and relentless invasion of her privacy. Maybe if we all tried a little harder to remember that, we wouldn't feel the need for more answers.


By Kate Harding

Kate Harding is the author of Asking For It: The Alarming Rise of Rape Culture--and What We Can Do About It, available from Da Capo Press in August 2015. Previously, she collaborated with Anna Holmes, Amanda Hess, and a cast of thousands on The Book of Jezebel, and with Marianne Kirby on Lessons from the Fat-o-Sphere. You might also remember her as the founding editor of Shapely Prose (2007-2010). Kate's essays have appeared in the anthologies Madonna & Me, Yes Means Yes, Feed Me, and Airmail: Women of Letters. She holds an M.F.A. in fiction from Vermont College of Fine Arts and a B.A. in English from University of Toronto, and is currently at work on a Ph.D. in creative writing from Bath Spa University

MORE FROM Kate Harding

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Broadsheet Caster Semenya Gender