Thursday, September 24, 2009

SA athletics chief to stay in job

Athletics South Africa chief Leonard Chuene will keep his job despite calls for him to be fired for lying about Caster Semenya undergoing gender tests.

Chuene first denied knowing that tests were carried out on the runner in South Africa before her 800m world title win but later admitted he had known.

He then expressed outrage when governing body the IAAF ordered its own tests after the Berlin championships.

But the Athletics South Africa council has backed the under-fire Chuene.

After meeting for several hours on Thursday, they released a brief statement saying it "unanimously expressed confidence in the current ASA leadership."

Chuene refused to comment after the meeting but South Africa's opposition Democratic Alliance party said the statement was "exceptionally disappointing."

"The need for Chuene to go is a no-brainer - so it is of deep concern that ASA appears to have given him a vote of confidence," they said.

The mere fact that SA athletics thought they could get away with this shows how far removed they are from the real world

"Chuene lied to the nation. He embarrassed South Africa internationally. And he breached Caster Semenya's right to dignity. What more does someone need to do to face disciplinary sanctions?"

However, the South African Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee is conducting its own investigation into the Semenya case.

Chuene admitted on Saturday that he had lied to the South African public about his knowledge of the tests, conducted on Semenya in Pretoria on 7 August, but said the deception had been intended to protect Semenya's confidentiality.

He said that he had lied about the matter to protect the teenager's privacy.

The International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) began a gender verification process ahead of the race in Berlin and, pending the outcome, allowed Semenya to participate in the 800m final.

Semenya first burst on to the world stage in July when she ran one minute, 56.72 seconds for the 800m in Bambous, smashing her previous personal best by more than seven seconds.

Though South African officials insisted no gender tests were carried out within the country, it has emerged that the IAAF asked for Semenya to be withdrawn from the South African team for the World Championships following initial tests conducted locally, before the event.

However, Athletics South Africa insisted she should run and has since said it is certain she is female, a claim backed up by her family.

Semenya won the world title in another personal best of 1:55.45, two seconds clear of defending champion Janeth Jepkosgei.

The IAAF ordered more tests following that victory, with the results due in November but BBC Sport understands they are likely to show Semenya has an intersex status, exhibiting both male and female sex characteristics.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

India's 'Semenya' sends support

Considering suicide after being stripped of her medal and shunned by the people around her, Indian runner Santhi Soundarajan knows a bit about what Caster Semenya is going through.
Soundarajan failed a gender test after finishing second in the women's 800-metre race at the 2006 Asian Games and was forced to return her silver medal.Semenya, the 800 world champion from South Africa who has been going through the same type of test to prove she is eligible to compete as a woman, is facing an uncertain future.
"I pray that Semenya does not go through what I've been through, it almost drove me to committing suicide,'' Soundarajan, now 28, said from her southern Indian hometown.
"I've suffered immensely due to the stigma of the failed gender test.''
Soundarajan, who came from a poor family, was forced to drop out of competitive athletics after she failed the gender test, and finding a job and earning enough money to eat then became a daily struggle.
Semenya also comes from poverty, but she managed to win the 800 at the worlds in 1 minute, 55.45 seconds, 2.45 seconds ahead of her closest competitor. It was the best 800 time in the world this year.
Before the race even started, however, the IAAF said it had ordered gender tests to be done on Semenya because questions had been raised about her muscular physique and recent stunning improvement in times.
The IAAF has refused to confirm or deny Australian media reports saying the tests show that Semenya has both male and female sex organs.It has said the test results are being studied and a decision on whether she will be allowed to continue in women's events is expected in November.
Soundarajan, however, wasn't surprised the issue has come up again so soon after her own ordeal.
"With so much of workload athletes go through, there will be hormonal changes. It's bound to happen,'' said Soundarajan, who has been coaching poor children for the last two years. ``The authorities should bear this in mind when they take decisions.
"I cannot forget what I had to go through after my Asian Games medal was taken back. I hail from a poor family, and no one would give me a job. My entire family suffered as people began looking at me with a jaundiced eye, treating me like a cheat.''
Soundarajan is hoping Semenya doesn't have to go through a similar experience.
"I do not know about Semenya's family conditions and support, but I hope she does not lose heart,'' Soundarajan said.It was through coaching children that Soundarajan was able to change her life for the better.
"It was a tough decision. I was still reeling under the impact of a trauma, but had no available options or choices to make ... so coaching it was,'' Soundarajan said."Coaching has given me immense satisfaction, especially as these young boys and girls are now competing for medals in the state competitions.
"During school vacations, I get to train more than 60 boys and girls. The facilities are not very good, but I was delighted when my wards secured the first and third positions in the three-mile run during last year's Chennai Marathon. This year, they'll win the top three places.''
Getting her own medal back, something the Athletics Federation of India has said that it might consider asking for from the Olympic Council of Asia, would be a dream come true.
"I'll run miles to accept it back. It will change my life,'' Soundarajan said. "I do hope that people will treat me better when I am relieved of that stigma.''

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Semenya 'let down' in gender row

Retired American track and field star Carl Lewis says South African athletics authorities have "let down" Caster Semenya, 18, amid the row over her sex.
The newly crowned 800m world champion has had medical tests following doubts about whether she is actually female.
Athletics' world governing body (IAAF), demanded the test three weeks before the World Championships and Lewis says Semenya should have been withdrawn.
"The South African federation should have dealt with it," said Lewis.
The IAAF said the teenager was first asked to undergo a gender test after she posted a world leading time of one minute, 56.72 seconds at the African junior championships in July.
To put it out in front of the world like that, I am very disappointed in them because I feel that it is unfair to her
Carl Lewis
The test was never conducted and Semenya was allowed to compete at the World Championships in Berlin.
However, the South African athletics federation denied there were concerns over Semenya stating: "We would not have entered her in the female competition if we had any doubts."
The IAAF was then roundly criticised for announcing Semenya would have to take a gender test just hours before the 800m final.
Semenya went on to win in Berlin in one minute, 55.45 seconds, the year's fastest time, a personal best and a national record.
"Here is an 18-year-old young woman, because that's what she feels she is, let down every step along the way... I think the federation let her down," added Lewis.
"It is your fault," he said of the South African athletics federation.
"She is your athlete in your country and you didn't deal with this before.
"To put it out in front of the world like that, I am very disappointed in them because I feel that it is unfair to her.
"Now, for the rest of her life she'll be marked as 'the one'."
Medical experts are still examining the results of the tests, with the conclusions expected in November and BBC Sport understands tests are likely to show Semenya has an intersex status.
South African President Jacob Zuma decried the invasion of Semenya's privacy and what he called the violation of her rights.
Subsequently the country's minister for woman and children Noluthando Mayende-Sibiya has filed a complaint with the United Nations over the IAAF's handling of the case.
She has accused the organisation of a "blatant disregard" for the athlete's "human dignity" and called on the UN Division for the Advancement of Women to investigate.
Meanwhile, South African sports minister Reverend Makhenkesi Stofile has reacted furiously to the idea Semenya could be banned, warning of a "third world war" if the row over her sex stops her competing.
"Neither Caster nor her family deserves this humiliation. None of them have done anything wrong. And we appeal that they be left alone," said Stofile.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Semeys : The birth defect people don’t talk about

WASHINGTON – It’s the birth defect people don’t talk about. A baby is born not completely male or female. The old term was hermaphrodite, then intersex. Now it’s called “disorders of sexual development.” Sometimes the person with the problem doesn’t even know it and finds out in an all too public way.
That’s been the painful plight of a few female athletes through history. And apparently that’s the situation for South African track star Caster Semenya.
Two Australian newspapers reported Friday that gender tests show the world champion athlete has no ovaries or uterus and internal testes that produce large amounts of testosterone. The international sports federation that ordered the tests wouldn’t confirm the reports.

Experts say Semenya should be allowed to race as a woman and they cringe at how her case is exploding publicly in the news media. They worry about psychological scars. Two years ago, a star female track athlete who tested male attempted suicide.
Unless she took some illicit substance, Semenya is a female with a birth defect, simple as that, said Dr. Myron Genel, a professor emeritus of pediatrics at Yale University. He was part of a special panel of experts convened by the International Association of Athletics Federations in 1990 that helped end much, but not all, genetic gender testing.
“It’s no different in a sense than a youngster who is born with a hole in the heart,” Genel said. “These are in fact birth defects in an area that a lot of people are uncomfortable with.”
Semenya is hardly alone. Estimates vary, but about 1 percent of people are born with abnormal sex organs, experts say. These people may have the physical characteristics of both genders or a chromosomal disorder or simply ambiguous features.
Sometimes a sexual development problem is all too obvious when a baby is born. Other times, the disorder in girls may not be noticed until puberty, when she doesn’t start her period. And still other times, especially with the androgen insensitivity syndrome experts think Semenya might have, it remains hidden until she tries to have a baby — or in the case of an athlete, until she’s given a genetic test.
Genetic testing of women over five Olympics found genetic gender issues in 27 out of 11,373 women tested, according to a 2000 Journal of the American Medical Association article. However, none were men deliberately posing as women, as competitors fear.
Dr. Louis Elsas, chairman of biochemistry at the University of Miami and a member of the IAAF panel with Genel, said he had hoped the genetic gender testing issue was over after the 1996 Olympics, when most major sports abandoned regular testing. He recalled having to talk to a female athlete and reveal that she had XY chromosomes and that she’d be infertile. It’s something that shouldn’t splash onto television, newspapers and the Internet, he said.
“It’s a severe emotional trauma,” Elsas said.
The concern that women with XY chromosomes have a competitive advantage “is malarkey. We don’t segregate athletes by height,” said Genel, speaking from an international endocrinology conference in New York that has sessions on intersex issues.
Dr. Joe Leigh Simpson, past president of the American College of Medical Genetics and a member of the IAAF panel, agreed: “Any elite athlete … has a competitive advantage, or otherwise they wouldn’t be an elite athlete.”
Simpson, associate dean at Florida International University, said the issue should be simply whether men are masquerading as women. Semenya is clearly a woman, he said.
Nearly all the disorders are caused by genetic mutations, Simpson said. And they usually happen in the first eight weeks of pregnancy, he said.
There are many types of sexual development disorders, all of them rare, but they add up, the experts said. Depending on the particular disorder and individual condition, treatment could involve surgery or hormone therapy or both. The issue is often not just what sex to assign the child, but when to assign it. It used to be that doctors pushed surgery on babies; now many times they wait. Sometimes they wait until the patient is old enough to help make a decision.
David Sandberg, a pediatric psychologist at Michigan, said he advises families to go slowly when deciding whether to raise their child as a boy or girl or whether to have surgery. Treatment varies depending on the disorder, but has become more conservative over the years, he said.
But that’s when the problem is noticeable. When it comes to some athletes like Semenya, it’s not even known until tests reveal it.
Maria Martinez-Patino knows the issue firsthand. A world-class athlete, she was raised and looked like a normal female and even received the needed “certificate of feminity” to participate in the 1983 World Track and Field Championships in Helsinki, Finland.
In 1985 at the World University Games in Kobe, Japan, her test came back with an XY and she was not allowed to compete. Martinez-Patino had androgen insensitivity, meaning she didn’t respond to testosterone. That meant she also didn’t have a competitive advantage from having an XY chromosome.
“I sat in the stands that day watching my teammates, wondering how my body differed from theirs,” she wrote in the medical journal The Lancet in 2005. “I spent the rest of that week in my room, feeling a sadness that I could not share.”

Friday, September 11, 2009

Semenya's Gender Test Results Are In

Semenya, who won the women's 800-meter title at last month's world championship in Berlin, has had a gender test, and the results given to track and field's ruling body were leaked to Australian newspapers.
Former IAAF medical commission chairman Arne Ljungqvist would not comment specifically on the Semenya case, but he cautioned that a person's gender is not always easy to define.
"There is no simple, single lab test that can tell if you are a man or a woman. It is not black and white," Ljungqvist told The Associated Press by phone Friday from Sweden. "A person who carries a legal certificate showing that he is a man or a women, then they are a man or a woman."
Semenya comes from a poor village in rural South Africa and first drew attention when she won the 800 title at the African junior championships. With her muscular build and deep voice, more questions were raised at the world championships.
The International Association of Athletics Federations confirmed that Semenya was undergoing a gender test on the day she won the gold medal in the 800 by a huge margin.
Australian newspapers reported that Semenya has no ovaries and has internal testes, which produce testosterone. The IAAF didn't confirm or deny the reports, saying it was reviewing the test results and would announce its findings in November.
"There are many, many other reasons why a woman looks male," Ljungqvist said. "Probably the most common has nothing to do with intersex: production of steroids from the adrenal gland. Most of the women you see who look like men are not intersexed. Some men have a very womanlike body shape."
Another key issue is whether an intersexed person can make use of the natural male hormones they may be producing.

IAAF Won't Confirm or Deny Semenya 'Hermaphrodite' Reports

The results of the gender tests run on South African runner Caster Semenya are in, but the International Association of Athletics Federation refused today to confirm or deny reports that the 18-year-old medal winner belongs to a gender category known as intersex -- in other words, that she may possess both male and female biological features.

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Chris Cuomo anchors a recap of "Good Morning America."
Speculation over the results have given rise to media reports using the term "hermaphrodite" -- a label that is falling out of use within the medical community due to its offensive and often inaccurate nature.
The IAAF said in a statement that it won't release the results of its gender tests on Semenya until November.
"We can officially confirm that gender verification test results will be examined by a group of medical experts," the organization said. "No decision on the case will be communicated until the IAAF has had the opportunity to complete this examination."

Gender Questions Dog Sprinter
The controversy over Semenya heated up after the British newspaper the Sun and Australia's Sydney Morning Herald reported that they had received leaks of the test results showing that the runner, who won the 800-meter women's race at the IAAF world championship in Berlin last month, has both male and female sex organs.
The IAAF did not directly respond to the news reports' claims but said they "should not be considered as official statements" by the organization.
South African Sports Minister Makhenkesi Stofile held a press conference today to express his horror at the handling of the whole affair. He insisted Semenya is female and that lack of a womb should not disqualify her from women's competition.
"We think her human rights have been violated and her privacy invaded," Stofile said. "I don't know why she is being subjected to this."
Stofile said that with the world being told that Semenya is intersex -- and specifically that she is a hermaphrodite -- another youngster might be driven to commit suicide, adding: "It can be as bad as that."
Stofile told the news conference he has no doubts about Semenya's gender. "She's a woman, she remains our heroine. We must protect her," he said.

Caster Semenya Gender Test: Outrage, Worry In South Africa Over Report

PRETORIA, South Africa — Caster Semenya had heard the taunts and whispers – that she was different from other girls. Now the most intimate details of her anatomy are headline news, and there is worry about how the 18-year-old runner from a poor South African village will handle it all.
Two Australian newspapers reported Friday that gender tests show the world champion athlete has no ovaries or uterus and internal testes that produce large amounts of testosterone. The international sports federation that ordered the tests wouldn't confirm the reports.
The International Association of Athletics Federations, which ordered the gender tests, refused to confirm or deny the reports. In a statement, the IAAF said it is reviewing the test results and will issue a final decision in November.
South African Sports Minister Makhenkesi Stofile expressed horror at the handling of the affair and insisted Caster is female.
"We think her human rights have been violated and her privacy invaded," Stofile said, adding that Semenya should be given legal advice and counseling.
Semenya dropped out of sight Friday. The South African Press Association quoted her coach, Michael Seme, as saying she would not take part in a 4,000-meter race at the South African Cross Country Championships in Pretoria on Saturday because she was "not feeling well." Seme had said earlier in the week that she would run.
Semenya won the 800-meter race at the world championships in Berlin on Aug. 19 by 2.45 seconds in a world-record 1 minute, 55.45 seconds. Even before that, though, her dramatic improvement in times, muscular build and deep voice had prompted speculation about her gender.
The international federation had asked South African track and field authorities to conduct the gender verification test after she posted a world-leading time of 1:56.72 at the African junior championships in July.

Embattled track star Caster Semenya gets new coach

It's been a week of change for Caster Semenya, the South African runner at the center of a gender controversy at last month's world track championships.
First, one of her South African coaches quit the team in shame for not telling Semenya that she was being subjected to gender tests. (Semenya had thought she was taking a doping test.) Then, Semenya appeared on the cover of South Africa's You magazine with a complete makeover designed to silence critics who insist she is a man.
For the shoot Semenya sported a less ambiguous hair style, a designer black dress, jewelry, makeup and nail polish. Despite what you think about the whole situation, it's safe to say that this is the first time that Semenya has truly looked like an 18-year old woman.
She says she likes the look too. Semenya told the BBC:
"I'd like to dress up more often and wear dresses but I never get the chance.
I am who I am and I'm proud of myself."
Let's hope this is what she wants though.
Nothing Semenya has done in the past month has suggested that she likes to wear dresses, get manicures and let down her hair. After the controversy broke, she kept her cornrows, wore baggy clothes and pounded her chest in victory like a college football cornerback. When she returned to her hometown, she was dressed the same way. There's absolutely nothing wrong with that. That seemed to be Semenya's natural inclination. This feels forced.
Hopefully I'm wrong. But if Semenya was pressured to do this to silence her critics, then this is a sad story rather than one of retribution. The opinions of a few jealous coaches shouldn't have an effect on how an 18-year old carries herself. If Semenya wants to wear dresses then she should. But if she wants to run around in track suits, what's the problem with that?
The coach who resigned wasn't Semenya's personal coach, but a middle distance supervisor on the South African team who was ashamed that Semenya was kept in the dark about the growing controversy. Wilfred Daniels said he was told the issue was supposed to stay private.

Semenya withdraws from race amidst reports she's hermaphrodite

Caster Semenya, the 18-year old at the center of one of the biggest gender scandals in sports history, withdrew from a weekend race in South Africa amidst unconfirmed reports that her gender tests have revealed that she has both male and female sexual organs.
She was scheduled to compete in the 4,000 meters at the national cross country championships in Pretoria. Semenya's coach, Michael Seme, says his runner "isn't feeling well".
Yesterday, unsubstantiated reports from Australia and England said that Semenya's tests showed that she has no womb or ovaries and produces testosterone levels three times higher than a normal woman. The IAAF thinly denies the reports. (The organization's spokesman says he hasn't "seen" the results, which doesn't mean he hasn't "heard" the results. Nor has the IAAF come out and said that the reports are false.)
The Today Show aired a report on the Semenya situation this morning:
It's another chapter in an unfortunate story. It's easy to get caught up in the sensationalized aspects of Semenya's tale, but let's not forget that she's still just a teenager who is now the centerpiece of an embarrassing worldwide scandal. No matter how things progressed to this point (and we'll get to that later), Semenya is a victim in this story.
But let's operate under assumption that the tests were accurate and that Semenya is a hermaphrodite. If so, then there are three main questions that will need to be answered soon:
1) Will Semenya be stripped of her gold medal?
Probably. It's hard to imagine that the IAAF would allow Semenya to keep the gold after what these tests reveal. The rules explicitly state that a "gender verification" situation has to be approved and overseen by medical authorities. Semenya didn't do this. Fair or not, a rule is a rule.
2) Will Semenya ever be allowed to run again?
Reading the IAAF rules, it would appear that Semenya would be allowed to run if her condition was treated. Whether or not she would want to is anyone's guess. But there's also a chance she could be banned from running based on the answer to the next question.
3) Who knew about this and when did they know?
We haven't gotten this far down the road yet, but the next logical step in the progression of this sordid affair is whether there was a coverup involved. Regardless of whether the intentions of Semenya and her handlers were nefarious, they had to know of her ambiguous gender. Not having ovaries isn't something that goes unnoticed. If they did, then at what point did this turn from an unfortunate medical situation into outright deception?
If Semenya was an innocent running without knowledge of her condition, then there's not much the IAAF could do other than strip her medal and advise her on how to regain eligibility. But if it can be determined that she knew she was running illegally (which would be tough to prove, but I'm starting to get the feeling that people knew -- how else would other coaches have known to order gender tests?) then there could be heavy sanctions down the road.
These questions will be discussed in the coming weeks and will be the center of attention when the IAAF officially releases its findings in November. If you thought the tale of Caster Semenya was strange before, it's just getting started.

IAAF hold tight on Semenya results

South Africa's Caster Semenya has been at the centre of rumours since winning gold [AFP]The IAAF – International Association of Athletics Federations – has confirmed it has received the results of gender tests on South African runner Caster Semenya, but is still reviewing them and will not issue any final decision until November.
The IAAF did not confirm or deny Australian newspaper reports that the recently crowned women's world 800-metre champion has male and female sexual organs.
The Australian newspaper reported in its Friday edition that medical reports on the 18-year-old Semenya indicate she has no ovaries, but rather has internal male testes, which are producing large amounts of testosterone.

Staying quiet
"We would like to emphasise that these should not be considered as official statements by the IAAF,'' the federation said in a statement regarding the reports that first appeared in News Limited and Fairfax newspapers.
"We can officially confirm that gender verification test results will be examined by a group of medical experts,'' the statement continued.
"No decision on the case will be communicated until the IAAF has had the opportunity to complete this examination. We do not expect to make a final decision on this case before the next meeting of the IAAF Council which takes place in Monaco on November 20-21.''
After dominating her race at the world championships in Berlin last month, Semenya underwent blood and chromosome tests, as well as a gynaecological examination.
IAAF spokesman Nick Davies said he could not confirm the Australian news reports.
"I simply haven't seen the results,'' Davies said

"We have received the results from Germany, but they now need to be examined by a group of experts and we will not be in a position to speak to the athlete about them for at least a few weeks.

"After that, depending on the results, we will meet privately with the athlete to discuss further action.''
The athlete has received overwhelming support from her home country [AFP]Angry father
Semenya's father, Jacob, expressed anger, saying people who insinuate his daughter is not a woman "are sick. They are crazy.''
He said he had not been told anything by the IAAF, Athletics South Africa or his daughter.
"I know nothing,'' he said.
Davies said the newspaper's report "should be treated with caution.''
The IAAF has said Semenya probably would keep her medal because the case was not related to a doping matter.
"Our legal advice is that, if she proves to have an advantage because of the male hormones, then it will be extremely difficult to strip the medal off her, since she has not cheated,'' Davies said.
"She was naturally made that way, and she was entered in Berlin by her team and accepted by the IAAF. But let's wait and see once we have the final decision.''
Leonard Chuene, the president of Athletics South Africa, reported that all he has heard from the IAAF is that the test results will be available in November.
"The results are not in the country yet, so we cannot comment on anything,'' Chuene said.