Caster Semenya is headed back to school. The last bit of news I heard about her was that the pending result of her sex test continues to dominate the track world’s headlines. But in an astonishing display of change the South African Government is ready to use its political influence to support their maligned daughter if the findings from the International Association of Athletics Foundation, the IAAF, go against her. To counter the attack against Ms. Semenya, Leonard Chuene, president of Athletics South Africa, is ready to respond with a two pronged response using sports and politics. Mr. Chuene went on record saying that Ms. Semenya comes from a family of meager means and her status as something other than female is being taken for granted because she does not have the resources to defend herself. Mr. Chuene says that Ms. Semenya has become a ward of the South Africa and her case has been given full consideration by the government, suggesting that she has the political and financial backing for a fight
People have learned a little something from the way the IAAF ran rough shod over Santhi Soundarajan. Ms. Soundarajan was an Indian runner who was stripped of her silver medal she won at the 2006 Asian Games after she failed a gender verification test. It was Ms. Soundarajan’s opinion that since she had come from a small village and had no one to help her in her fight against the IAAF. Ms. Soundarajan was diagnosed with Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome (AIS) diagnosed and was unqualified to compete with woman’s running ever since, her career ruined. Mr. Chuene is determined that Ms. Semenya doesn’t end up suffering the same fate.
What I find most amazing about this turn of events is the fact that this support comes from the South African government. This is the same government that just two decades ago was neck deep in government sanctioned apartheid, state sanctioned racial discrimination against blacks. It took the country less than twenty years to change its mode of operation of treating black people as something to be unworthy of equal status and to morph that into a country that would actually support a black woman accused of being something other than a woman. South Africa isn’t passively waiting for some jury elsewhere to give their verdict indicating whether or not Ms. Semenya is one hundred percent female before it decides to give their support. South Africa stands ready now to defend Ms. Semenya with everything it’s got.
In contrast, many people in the black community are waiting for some confirmation of gender from the IAAF’s doctors and other specialists that Ms. Semenya is indeed what she claims to be before they would embrace this sister. In a lot of people’s eyes, she’s too manly or too muscle bound to be worth supporting. It’s only after somebody like the various doctors of the IAAF give their seal of approval will these people then change their position and support people “like this”, meaning those who may possess an abnormality such as AIS.
But while doing a little research on this topic, one thing that became apparent was the fact that Ms. Semenya and Ms. Soundarajan were both from locales where poverty is the norm. In fact, according to her coach, Ms. Soundarajan was brought up in a rural India environment so impoverished that she only started eating proper meals in 2004, at the age of twenty three. After years of her body adapting to doing without adequate food, a healthy meal probably gave her more energy than she ever needed, giving her much more stamina than her body ever thought possible. Indeed, it may have been the lack of adequate nutrition during her crucial growth years that led to Ms. Soundarajan’s body having underdeveloped sex organs. And now people think that the years of dealing with hunger and possibly starvation gives people like her and Ms. Semenya an unfair advantage.
This is just a theory. There is no scientific evidence to support this argument. I wouldn’t really know how to prove anything scientifically to save my life. But by the same token, it has yet to be proven that Ms. Semenya has AIS or any other gender abnormality and yet people feel entitled to disqualify her and hold her up to suspicion with little facts other than her appearance and the sound of her voice. To compound that unresolved question, it has yet to be adequately proven that a condition of AIS gives anyone some unfair performance advantage. This is why the South African government wants to come to her aid to make sure that any condemnation of Ms. Semenya is truly proven beyond any shadow of doubt. Hunches and suspicions and arbitrary gender testing does not qualify.
The country that is best known for its shameful treatment of black people is coming to the aid and supporting this product of the black community. This is the same country with a history that back in the day would never allow a black person to run on any track with a white person. They understand the stakes. A contest between the IAAF and Ms. Semenya is no contest at all. The IAAF has a history of using the suspicion of AIS as a reason to destroy reputations of people who have no means to question anything about the results.
This young lady needed someone to believe in her if she is going to come through this with her dignity and her reputation intact. I give my complements to the South African people for their willingness as a collective to step to the plate and combat this prejudice against their daughter. It is simply too bad that more people don’t have the courage to stand by her and to support her and to believe that she has earned every right to be on the field running in competition with other women.