Sprinter Caster Semenya has been placed on suicide watch in the wake of leaked tests apparently showing evidence of intersexuality as well as the negative press she’s received. The news of this has prompted Lord Coe, a vice-president of the IAAF (which oversees the World Championships), to push for mandatory pre-emptive gender testing, to ensure that intersex athletes can be screened out before they arrive at the public stage.
Coe will be discussing this issue with the other IAAF vice-presidents on the federation’s advisory board and their recommendations will then be presented to the IAAF Council at its next meeting in November. There is a suggestion also that Coe may travel with Lamine Diack, the IAAF president, on his proposed forthcoming visit to South Africa to resolve the situation in which Semenya now finds herself.
Because it’s more humane to dash an athlete’s dreams out of sight than to possibly get egg on your face for doing it publicly.
Don’t get me wrong, I realize that not all motives to handle something like this quietly are conspiratorial or self-serving. I do, however, question the intent to sweep everything under the rug rather than take an in-depth, fair and scrutinizing look at a serious issue, and develop a more practical policy.
While the people who leaked the intersex findings regarding Caster Semenya to the media failed to indicate which intersex condition is implicated, there are many such conditions which may indicate physical intersexuality, but be essentially negligible when it comes to the question of competitive advantage. Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome can be one such condition in which it could be entirely possible for Semenya to have “three times the amount of testosterone as the average woman” and still have that testosterone barely affect her body and abilities in any way. The problem isn’t intersexuality so much as the fact that the so-called pundits are only looking at half the picture.
The International Olympic Committee has fared better, previously reviewing the question of transsexual athletes (a different but related issue) and ruled that transitioned athletes who have had surgery and completed two subsequent years of hormone therapy are physically equal to their new gender. Why then is it so difficult to come to a more rational, balanced policy regarding intersexed athletes?
Until the IAAF can review the question thoroughly and fairly, it risks more tragedies like Semenya’s story or that of Santhi Soundarajan, except that they simply propose to play out those tragedies in hiding, where dreams can be dashed, identities can be quashed and families and national sports administrations will be able to discriminate against affected athletes without intersex-aware defenders to come to their aid. The proposed ass-covering changes merely sweep the issue under the rug and leave events such as the World Championships with outdated policies that will not stand the test of time and medical evidence.