Sports News Without Fear, Favor or Compromise
Sports News Without Fear, Favor or Compromise

She's The Man?

Illustration for article titled She's The Man?

South African distance runner Caster Semenya will run in tonight's women's 800-meter final at the track and field world championships in Berlin, despite concerns that she's a dude pulling a reverse Yentl on the world.


Earlier, two Australian newspapers reported that the 18-year-old Semenya — who owns the year's fastest 800 and whose "physique and powerful style have sparked speculation in recent months that she may not be entirely female," whatever that means — could be disqualified, pending the results of a series of physical checks. An IAAF spokesman later said there was no evidence of foul play and that the governing body hadn't conducted any tests, though everyone seems to think the IAAF will eventually screen her anyway. Dicks.

This sort of thing has happened before (see: Stella Walsh and her "ambiguous genitalia"). For now, it's all just a bizarre, Aussie-propagated rumor that Semenya and her handlers have been forced to parry in wincingly awkward fashion:

[Coach Michael Seme] added that when they stopped at a petrol station in Cape Town recently and Semenya entered the female toilets, the petrol attendants prevented her from doing so because they were convinced she was a man.

"Caster just laughed and asked if they would like her to take off her pants to show them she was a woman," said Seme.

The coach said he found it funny, but he doesn't have any problems with it because he is 100% certain that Semenya is a woman.

"People probably have the right to ask such questions if they are in doubt. But I can give you the telephone numbers of her room-mates in Berlin. They have already seen her naked in the showers and she has nothing to hide," Seme explained.

According to the media liaison of Athletics South Africa (ASA), Ethel Manyaka, ASA would not send an athlete to the World Championships if they were not certain about the participant's gender.

"President of ASA, Leonard Cheuene, knows something like that will create a huge controversy. How are we going to do it besides asking her to show us her private parts?" quipped Manyaka.

Alas, it's not so simple, the smart fellows at Science of Sport inform us:

[E]ven genetic testing cannot confirm male or female. In fact, it is so complex that to do proper gender testing, you have to take a multi-disciplinary approach, and make use of internal medicine specialists, gynecologists, psychologists, geneticists and endocrinologists. I am afraid that dropping your pants is not proof at all.

Which means that for the remainder of her career, Caster Semenya will have the world eyeing her crotch, and that track will enter the second decade of the 21st century behaving like some bad '80s movie.

Athlete could be disqualified over gender doubts [The Age]
Is she really a HE? [Daily Mail]
Semenya faces gender probe [Sport 24]
Caster Semenya: Male or female? [The Science of Sport]