The teenager who struck gold in the women’s 800 meter at the World Athletics Championships now faces sex tests by claims she could be a man. Semenya’s friends and family are coming to her defense saying she is indeed a woman. South African Semenya was also backed by her government, who called her the country’s ‘golden girl’ and a role model for young athletes. Dorcus Semenya, Caster’s mother, declared: ‘I know who and what my child is. Caster is all girl, and no one can change that.’ But only tests can reveal the truth.
After Caster Semenya won the women’s title with a crushing performance in Berlin on Wednesday, the governing body of world athletics, the IAAF, asked South Africa to test their star 18-year-old’s gender after her muscular physique and extraordinary performances sparked speculation over whether she is really female.
Common sense would say pulling down one’s pants could easily determine gender. But the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) says that the tests are ‘extremely complex’, and that the results will not be known for days, even weeks. This is where things get sticky. While the vast majority of people are clearly either a man or a woman, many others are somewhere between the two. This means that despite having no visible male genitalia and a visibly female body, she does, in fact, have a ‘male’ pair of XY chromosomes.
Indian 800 meter runner Santhi Soundarajan was stripped of her silver medal and reported to have attempted suicide in the wake of her very public gender test ‘failure’ at the 2006 Asian games. Soudarajan was not aware that she had ‘androgen insensitivity syndrome’ and was devastated by the news. Hopefully the IAAF will keep this in mind before revealing her test result details during this sensitive time.