“…until independent experts agree that the treatment has been effective.”

I live on the Internet. I work there, I read there, and I write there. But sometimes, when a topic confounds, I just gotta close my eyes and turn to another medium. God bless radio.

Radio insists on brevity. And in the rising swell of gabbling voices (mine included), it is this simple two-sentence story borrowed from Radio New Zealand that quietly drops the penny:

The World 800 metre champion Caster Semenya of South Africa has been undergoing hormone-based treatment for what is widely accepted now to be an inter-sex condition and could return to competition at some point this year.

Semenya won’t be allowed to compete at IAAF sanctioned events until independent experts agree that the treatment has been effective.

– “Hormone treatment for controversial gold medallist“, Radio New Zealand

It would appear (from this and other sources) that the IAAF is requiring hormone “treatment” in return for permission to compete. Be exceptional… but not that exceptional. It’s a standard that doesn’t seem to apply to everyone:

Yao Ming. All 7 feet, six inches of him. Photo credit: The Calgary Sun

Yao Ming. All 7 feet, 6 inches of him. Photo credit: The Calgary Sun

According to his Wikipedia page, Yao Ming “…is one of China’s best-known athletes, with sponsorships with several major companies, and he has been the richest celebrity in China for six straight years.”  Imagine if he’d been banned from his sport for having his remarkable – yet unfair! – physical advantage.

I am not going to belabour this point, but I believe that Caster Semenya’s story is going to be one of those sad chapters in history that future administrations will regret. It will be remembered as yet another example of our collective ignorance around sex and gender. We will wonder why we she was pathologized when she could just as easily have been lionized.

UPDATE: On May 19, the Telegraph published an article, “Caster Semenya’s rights being ‘swept under the carpet’, says sports scientist Tim Noakes” by Simon Hart. It’s worth a read, if only for the fact that in it, Noakes says what nobody else in the mainstream press seems willing to:
“So it seems it’s not about athletic advantage. It’s about keeping the Olympics free of intersex athletes, free of unwanted complications.” – Tim Noakes

Remarkably direct.



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4 responses to ““…until independent experts agree that the treatment has been effective.”

  1. Jack

    Once again proving that human ignorance knows no bounds, that the quest for homogeneity advances, and that worthy individuals will continue to be crushed and swept to the wayside by the fears of those in authority. Wake up, fools – there is no “normal”!

  2. Callie

    Well put Keph. A travesty. A sad chapter indeed.

  3. Heather

    wow, this IS sad. sad sad sad. the logical next step would be to treat every single competitor until their hormone levels are all the same, so that competition would be fair. and perhaps to also ensure all competitors have the same height, lung capacity, heart size, etc. so that no one has an unfair genetic advantage over another.

  4. Heather

    one more criticism – why is it that giving an intersex person hormones is acceptable (even mandatory) while an athlete taking performance enhancing hormones would be banned and shamed? isn’t the principle behind banning drugs in sport that performance should be a result of training to maximize your genetic gifts – whatever they may be?

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