Tuesday, September 15, 2009


So this is not going to be some deep, well thought out, theoretical entry. I’m just pissed off. My love-hate relationship with sports makes me love certain athletes and hate the institutions they must endure that perpetuate systemic discrimination and individual exploitation.

So according to unverified reports, Caster Semenya was born different than the “typical” female, whatever that means. From an athletic standpoint, I say she was blessed. Some say she was born with a damn mutation. I say she was born with a genetic gift and a disciplined will to train hard that together, have enabled her to run at an elite speed for half a mile.

As my buddy Josh Hall wondered, do “they test the guys and girls who place in the middle of the races to have a gauge for what is 'normal'?” And as a former track athlete, I can say from experience, the 800m is one of the toughest events in the sport.

In any case, I’m pretty much biting from SocProf on The Global Sociology Blog.

Another female athlete, also an 800m runner, from India underwent similar stigmatization and institutional discrimination not too long ago (from a BBC podcast):

Indian athlete Santhi Soundarajan failed a gender verification test after the 2006 Asian Games in Doha, and she was stripped of her silver medal for the 800m race.

Speaking through a male interpreter, Soundarajan talked to BBC Radio 5 live's Victoria Derbyshire about the controversy surrounding South Africa 800m world champion Caster Semenya, after reports suggest that gender tests show Semenya to have an inter-gender condition.

Soundarajan’s advice to Semenya (beginning at 7:23 of the podcast):

“I feel the medal should be retained with her. The medal should be with her. It should not be withdrawn. She should not undergo the same kind of humiliation and the insult in society [that] I have faced… Any kind of insults on her will definitely affect her mentally and physically. She won’t be in a position to hold her head high and walk in society. That should not happen to her. I strongly feel and suggest and advise that in spite of all her difficult issues, she continue to run. And the sporting bodies should retain her medal…

“I would like to make an appeal to the world sporting federations that there should be a serious consideration, that they should think in terms of how people like me or Semenya were affected, how this issue can be sorted out, how an alternate methodology can be devised. And the sports fraternity should insure that people with the caliber are given an opportunity to put forward their ability and reconsideration should be done as to how these issues are addressed, and the sports federation should come forward to find a solution, not ostracizing somebody and putting them or keeping them away from the society.”

It appears Soundarajan’s advice is sorely needed. Despite the hero’s welcome Semenya received upon returning home to South Africa, Media India is reporting that she is now on suicide watch due to the stigmatization inflicted upon her that questions her womanhood and right to run (assist to SocProf):

South African runner Caster Semenya, who is at the center of a gender row, has been placed on suicide watch amid fears for her mental stability.


Leaked details of the probe by the ­International Association of ­Athletics Federations showed the 800m starlet had male and female sex organs - but no womb.

Lawmaker Butana Komphela, chair of South Africa’s sports committee, was quoted as saying: “She is like a raped person. She is afraid of herself and does not want anyone near her. If she commits suicide, it will be on all our heads. The best we can do is protect her and look out for her during this trying time.”

South African athletics officials confirmed Semenya is now receiving trauma counselling at the University of Pretoria.

Caster has not competed since the World Athletics Championships last month when the IAAF ordered gender tests on her amid claims she might be male.

If Semenya is banned from T&F, a key ingredient of her identity and livelihood -- athletics -- will be stripped from her. And she will be stripped from us; we won’t get to see if she can break the 800m world record. Banned because she’s different. Not because she cheated, but because she’s labeled different.

Shame on those who said this athlete had to be made of “sugar and spice and everything nice” and all that crap simply to be accepted in society.


(Photo courtesy of Mail Online)
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1 comment:

  1. "Fears for Caster Semenya over trauma of test results" (9/13/09)

    "South Africa accused of cover-up over Caster Semenya gender tests" (9/18/09)