South Africa: Is Caster Semenye a man or a woman?

Caster Semenye, a young South African runner who recently won a gold medal at the World championships in Berlin has been thrown into the spotlight, and not due to her victory but rather her gender. The question is: Is Caster Semenye a man or a woman? In this post we are summarising bloggers’ reaction to the controversy.

Semenya won the 800m at the World Athletics Championship in Berlin, Germany, on Wednesday. She immediately found herself embroiled in controversy, when media outlets around the world scrutinised her masculine facial features and questioned her gender.

The International Association of Athletics Federations was investigating the gender allegations.

reports the Mail and Guardian.

The ANC and various other political organizations in South Africa have condemned the move and come out in support for Caster Semenye.

Adam Wakefield feels that the whole controversy exposes the IAAF hypocrisy and bungling of the situation, he writes:

Being only 18, Semenya has a bright future ahead of her if the IAAF’s bungling of the situation doesn’t take a turn for the worst.

It is appalling that the IAAF let it be known before the final that Semenya was to undergo a gender test. Would they leak a possible positive Usain Bolt test before he was set to run the 200m final?

No, because rules stipulate that the results of doping tests can only be made public once the IAAF and Wada are 100% sure either the A or B sample has tested positive. In Semenya’s case, she wasn’t afforded the luxury and the right of privacy.

Abigail Abrahams writes about the discussions at work amongst her colleagues

The consensus was that, yes, she looks very masculine, yet no one would have blinked an eye if the controversy had not surfaced as some men looked feminine and some women masculine.

One colleague actually compared Semenya to the tennis playing Williams sisters! Although I wouldn’t go that far.

In another post she writes:

This whole episode reminds me of a poem we did at primary school called The Twins by Henry S Leigh where the hapless twin laments, “…I put the question fruitlessly to everyone I knew.
What would you do if you were me to prove that you were you?”

Jackie feels that the whole issue could have been avoided:

Her coach Seme, and Athletics South Africa, should and could have avoided this controversy. They should have prepared for this eventuality, and done the tests quietly months, perhaps years ago. That would have been the sensitive thing to do.
This girl, who is still a teenager, is probably grappling with her sexuality. This avoidable international mess could cause her, and her family, great emotional stress at a time when she is vulnerable and still developing sexually and psychologically. managed to find pictures of Caster Semenye running at the South African High school champs, you can view the pictures at the supermedia site.

Some bloggers have focused on her name, while spelling it See-Man-Yeah instead of Semenye. he writes:

I was watching the Yarpie chap . . . sorry, I mean woman . . . Caster See-man-yeah in the womens 800m semifinals last night and I was wondering, how can you Yarpies be so sure that he . . . sorry, that “she” is in fact a woman?

“She” already resorted to cheating by tripping the favourite in an ealier heat, how can we be sure (s)he's not cheating again by posing as a woman when she is in fact a man? She certainly looks like a man.

Onelargeprawn writes:

After crossing the finish line last night, her gesture seemed to indicate what she thought of the matter – she crossed her arms and wiped the dirt of her shoulders. Jay Z would have been proud.

Due to the complexity of a gender verification test, the results would not be confirmed for several weeks, consequently the IAAF could not prevent Semenya from competing in last night’s final. It is, however, understood that South Africa came under some informal pressure to consider withdrawing Semenya from the race. Thankfully they stuck to their Glocks and let her run.

Simonial has also managed to find an older picture of Caster and concludes:

Caster Semenya definitely looks like a girl on this picture.

Soulfood wonders why every time South Africa makes the news for an achievement there is always a but:

Why is it that whenever South Africa or a South African is in the news for something good – it has to be qualified with a “but….” or “however” or “nevertheless”. Caster Semenya is my case in point.

According to official records, Caster ran the 5th fastest 800m time in history! In history! BUT, tests are going to be conducted on whether she is actually a he.

6000 Miles takes a tongue in cheek look at the issue:

In all seriousness, it’s unfortunate that the story here is around Semenya’s gender and not around her fantastic performance in the race last night. She has done South Africa proud and that should be the big news here.
I’m sure the whole country will get behind her as she attempts to make it a unique double in the men’s 800m tomorrow evening.

The video of the race:

With some view points from Michael Johnson:


  • My take is that if you set out to find the fastest runner in the world, you shouldn’t be surprised and disappointed when that person turns out to be unusual. Furthermore, if you talk about the importance of equality, as the IAAF does, you have to be very careful about how you treat unusual people.

  • Alessandra

    Racism? Please.

    In the 1976 Olympics, there was a reason why milky white, blonde Eastern European female athletes had deep voices, male-like musculature, little mustaches, and incredibly powerful performances. That reason was not pretty. Yes, they were women, but they were “chemically altered” women. And it was an investigation that got to the truth. Sports cheating technology has come a long way since then, and it surely has not been stopped in Berlin (several athletes have been caught cheating already). Is Semenya simply one of the latest examples?

    In every case where there was a major scandal about doping or sex impersonation in sports in the past, the first reaction of the coaches and respective officials is one of outrage and absolute denial. Not any different in this SA case. The bringing up of racism to impede an investigation would have been totally suspect to me. As long as a full investigation is carried out related to Semenya, I don’t care how much they screech racism.

    Let the tests begin and the blame fall where it should, once the results are out.

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