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Sports News Without Fear, Favor or Compromise
Illustration for article titled Caster Semenya Is A Hermaphrodite, Ballsy Aussie Paper Reports

Caster Semenya reportedly has no womb or ovaries but does have internal testes, and, as if determined to provide the missing piece, everyone is being a huge dick about the whole thing.


Australia's Daily Telegraph reports:

World athletics is in crisis over the gender of Caster Semenya after tests revealed the South African world champion has no womb or ovaries.

The International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) is ready to disqualify Semenya from future events and advise her to have immediate surgery because her condition carries grave health risks. They have also not ruled out stripping Semenya of her 800m world championships gold medal.

Tests conducted during the world athletics championships in Berlin last month, where Semenya's gender became the subject of heated debate following her victory in the 800m, revealed evidence she is a hermaphrodite, someone with both male and female sexual characteristics.

Semenya, 18, has three times the amount of testosterone that a "normal'' female would have. According to a source closely involved with the Semenya examinations IAAF testing, which included various scans, has revealed she has internal testes - the male sexual organs which produce testosterone.


Now, as the good people at The Science of Sport point out, "hermaphrodite" is inaccurate and hopelessly retrograde. Semenya is not both fully male and fully female. She is intersex, and despite the paper's claims, her condition may very well be allowable under IAAF policy. The question is whether the degree of the condition confers on her an athletic advantage. And this has actually come up before:

While it may be suggested that being an intersex individual, or someone who is "not entirely female" is grounds for disqualification, it is not. In Atlanta in 1996, 8 women "failed" the sex verification test because they had a Y-chromosome (strictly speaking, they had the SRY gene on the Y-chromosome). All eight were allowed to compete.

In fact, the IAAF has now handled eight cases since 2005 dealing with sexuality issues. According to the group's secretary-general, four athletes "were asked to stop their career." In other words, this is a lot more common than the coverage of Semenya's case would indicate. That's not all that surprising. Great athletes tend not to come from the vast middle of human life. They're all freaks in one way or another, which helps explain phenomena like Michael Phelps and Carl Lewis' music video. But Semenya has nevertheless been portrayed as some lone oddity on the margins, like some Elephant Man of sports, with everyone obsessing like Victorian scientists over the presence of a couple internal testicles. It's funny: People seem to think her very weirdness is grounds enough for stripping her of her medal and drumming her out of track. But this is sports. Her weirdness is perfectly normal.

Semenya has 'no womb or ovaries' [The Daily Telegraph]
Semenya to learn fate in November - IAAF [Sapa-AFP]
"Caster Semenya a hermaphrodite" vs. "Results in November". The rumor mill starts spinning [The Science of Sport]

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