Media Report: Caster Semenya is a Hermaphrodite

200px-20090819_Caster_SemenyaNow, here’s a novel legal question. If someone is a hermaphrodite, can they choose to run in either male or female races? That is a question that may face international sporting events after a report that an examination of Caster Semenya, 18, discovered that she has both male and female sexual organs. This one may be a slightly tougher question than our bicycle debate.

Semenya has withdrawn from the 4,000 meter race at the national cross country championships in Pretoria.

Media in Australia and England are reporting the discovery. The IAAF will not confirm or deny the story, here but her manager and team continue to deny the story.

This could make for an interesting defamation case if the reports are wrong. These newspapers, after all, are not just calling her a hermaphrodite but a liar (as well as her mother and manager who have denied the reports).

For the story, click here.

21 thoughts on “Media Report: Caster Semenya is a Hermaphrodite”

  1. There was a formatting error in my last post. I am posting this comment so that the italics get closed properly. Chalk up one more vote for a “preview comment” button.

  2. Just another mom,

    I am not sure what piece you heard, but I believe your statement that the IAAF only has a female test is correct. This is from the Gender & Sexuality Law Blog:

    … the International Association of Athletics Federations’s (IAAF) gender verification policy applies only to women’s events. Their testing is not designed to determine an athlete’s “real” sex, but rather seeks to discover whether a competitor such as Semenya is “enjoying the benefits of natural testosterone predominance normally seen in a male.” In essence, to pass the test the competitor must show “female levels of testosterone”

  3. JT,
    I have searched all over for the article I thought I read, but I’ve been unable to find it which leads me to believe that I must have heard it on the radio, probably NPR. Still, whatever the source, my understanding was that there are two categories, women and not women. I have never seen a piece on a person being disqualified from competing as a man.

  4. What about the question of disabled runners who seek to compete using prosthetics?

    Runner Oscar Pistorius is a double amputee and has artificial lower legs. Although initially ruled ineligible to compete in the 2008 Summer Olympics by the IAAF, that decision was reversed by the Court of Arbitration for Sport in May of 2008, and Pistorius was made eligible to compete. However, he did not qualify to run for the South African team. Had he competed and won an Olympic event, it would certainly have been very controversial.

    Will this precedent stand? Will it stand when the future advantages of technology surpass even the most elite abled runners, such that disabled runners would typically be expected to win events? How will sport measure unfair advantages? What about future advantages that are engineered by DNA or gene selection before the athlete is even born?

    There seems to be some agreement on this board that the categories of “female” and “not female” are an acceptable way to resolve this controversy with Semenya. Would the same hold true if the sport were gymnastics, where some female characteristics might provide an intersex athlete an advantage over males?

    For those interested, I believe this ABCNews story on Pistorious aired before he was made eligible for the Olympics:


  5. Wow.

    I’ll have to say I didn’t see that one coming.

    I suppose aside from the issue of proper placement in competition (and I do like j-a-mom’s “not women” solution), I’d think the biggest problem Semenya faces would be discrimination. Not funny and really just mean spirited. The next biggest issue(s) would be economic. I’ll use underwear and dry cleaning for my examples.

    Ladies, back me up on this.

    As child of a single mother, I got to go shopping with my mom A LOT as a kid. The two things jumped out at me (aside from the INSANE prices they often charge for make up) is the huge inequity women face at the checkout on underwear and at the dry cleaner.

    Women easily pay three to five times the price for underwear as men. It makes no sense. Less material. And don’t say more labor either. 90% of all bras, the most complicated piece, are made by machines today, not by hand. As a young man (ok, ok, snot nosed teenager), I once ripped off the bra of a partner in a particularly feisty session. Being a gentleman, I told her I’d replace it. After I recovered from the sticker shock, let’s just say I’ve never ripped a bra since no matter how passionate things get.

    And the ladies get it at the dry cleaner too. It’s always more to clean women’s clothing despite all they do is dip them in the same noxious chemicals men’s clothing are cleaned in. They also tend to try to find ways to charge more based on design features like pleats, ruffles, etc. Dipped is dipped. It’s an immersion process. What difference do the pleats make? Duh. NONE.

    So I’d think our speedy person here would have some interesting shopping options as far as being frugal goes. As far as competition, I’m going to say Semenya probably needs to be in the not-women category.

  6. Professor, we would so delight in a YouTube vid of your war games 🙂

    AY, to split heirs in a manner of speaking: “But I would agree with JAM that ovaries need to be present”

    They are, just in altered form 🙂 All fetus’ are originally feminine, they all have feminine sex organs until a gene switches on and interrupts the development of the gonads turning some into testes, the testosterone therein produced and released causes the rest of the modification that distinguishes the male sex organs.

    1. Lottakatz:

      I am not sure the last remnants of self-respect could handle the youtube clip, particularly when I went down with a head shot in the first ten seconds of the first game by an eleven year old sniper (the perils of being two feet taller than your opponents). My inclination was to shoot them all at the snack bar, but the management prevented me. That is Chicago-style paint ball.

  7. Question to my response: What if Athena or should I say a female athlete in training disrupts the biological function of there ovaries and they have to be removed, would they then have to run in the not women race?

  8. I think she is whatever her COLB says she is.

    If you thought those paintballs hurt in the summer, you should try playing in the winter. I got hit in the knuckle and it hurt for a week.

  9. JT,

    You are lucky to have your childhood in tact and your kids to play with.

    I would say who cares so long as the race is fare. But I would agree with JAM that ovaries need to be present in order to run in the womens race.

    I wish buddha would respond here. I am sure something cleaver and smart assed would be said. LOL. Come on buddy.

    FF LEO,

    What is your take on this?

  10. Professor Turley,
    I don’t think it’s a complicated legal question at all. A few weeks ago I read an article explaining that under the rules for international competition, there are two categories: women and not-women (which is called “men”).

    The “men’s” category is anyone who does not qualify as a woman whether the person is a man or not. If the reports are true that this athlete does not have ovaries, but instead has internal testicles, then the answer would be clear: even though she is not a man, she must compete in the not-women (men)’s events.

    1. Just another mom:

      Thanks for that interesting information. “Not women”. I love that. I have just returned from an amazing paint ball war with a group of eleven year old boys. I was a much bigger target. Those things, by the way, really hurt!

  11. I wasn’t particularly troubled by the ‘sex’ part of the IAAF testing but from the reports the testing included psychologists and ‘gender’ testing. Gender is not sex and should not be an issue. The advantage in sports is purely sex based between men and women’s competitions. Gender testing is way out of line.

    The leaking of her medical test results is, as other have pointed out, outrageous, she needs a lawyer as good as her trainer.

  12. The most relevant question, I think, is:

    “Do most hermaphrodites run like men or women?”

    There aren’t enough to create a hermaphrodites’ 100 m finals. They belong in one set of existing races or the other, so we have to choose for them as a group. They can’t all be given the right to decide for themselves which race they’d like to compete in (even though they might all opt to compete as females). Who else gets that choice?

    But not all hermaphrodites are created equal. There are several distinct types; owing to chromosomal irregularity, genetic defects, whatever. That’s fine. We can develop a set of medical standards to quietly map each hermaphrodite to whichever race battery seems most appropriate. Kleinfelter’s Syndrome goes here, Marfans goes there, etc. Then we can put athletes in races at the start without explicitly announcing who’s got a penis.

  13. I think that it cannot be denied that there are separate competitions based on gender in these sports because the typical male physique provides a performance advantage.

    If we aren’t going to get rid of such things altogether, it seems that an intersex (‘hermaphrodite’ isn’t the right word for this discussion, and is considered rude when applied to people) person would have to compete in the men’s field or not at all.

  14. Gotta respect the Blues,

    when Semenya wins her defamation case

    she’ll be “Build for comfort and speed.”

  15. Alan, 100% agreed.

    Only the pope needs a pope chair.

    She won and that’s that. Now it’s time to clobber them in court.

  16. Un homme qui lit, ou qui pense, ou qui calcule, appartient a’ l’espe’ ce et non au sexe; dans ses meilleurs moments, il e¤ chappe me” me a’ l’humain. (A person who reads or thinks or calculates, belongs to a kind and not to a gender; in his or her best moments, he or she escapes being human.)

    -Marguerite Crayencour

  17. It is unconscionable that Semenya’s private medical information is being apparently being leaked to the media. That alone should create a huge liability for the IAAF.

Comments are closed.