Determining Runner's Sex May be "Impossible"

By: From CBS News
By: From CBS News

(CBS/AP) South Africans planned to rally in support of track champion Caster Semenya - celebrating her win in the 800 meters at the world championship, and denouncing questions about whether she should be allowed to compete as a woman as racist and sexist.

The International Amateur Athletic Federation (IAAF) has initiated gender tests on Semenya. The tests are expected to take weeks to complete. They are extremely complex, involving a physical medical evaluation and including reports from a gynecologist, endocrinologist, psychologist, internal medicine specialist and gender expert.

And, said Sports Illustrated staff writer and track and field expert David Epstein on "The Early Show Saturday Edition," they may never even yield a definite answer about Semenya's gender.

"It's something that's gone on in track and field before, and it's difficult because, in track and field, you want to be able to categorize competitors as male or female, but biologically, it's not as black and white as you might want it to be for competition," Epstein told co-anchor Chris Wragge.

"(The IAAF) used to do this regularly," Epstein continued, "and they gave it up in 1991 because it's not very clear-cut. They will do it when, you know, some of her rivals said rude things, you know, 'Just take a look at her.' She came out of nowhere, she blew everybody away, and everybody doesn't like being blown away, so the IAAF had to respond some way, basically, so this is their response."

Epstein added, "The reason IAAF got rid of (gender testing) and the International Olympic Committee ... got rid it is because, in some ways, it's kind of impossible. Genetically, you can't even look at someone's chromosomes. There are women who have XY chromosomes, which would normally be for a male; there are testosterone levels that are all over the place. Genitalia can be ambiguous or doesn't determine sex necessarily. So, there really is no clear-cut way to tell.

"The medical community has said you can't always tell the difference between a male and a female, so I don't know how IAAF, unless they come up with an arbitrary standard, is going to tell. But we'll hear something.

"What they certainly will find out is if she's masquerading -- a man masquerading as a woman. That would be clearly cheating."

While the testing cloud hovers over Semenya, Athletics South Africa, track's national governing body, on Friday invited reporters to welcome the nation's athletes home from Tuesday's championships in Berlin.

The youth wing of the governing African National Congress said its president Julius Malema would lead a welcome rally for "South Africa's golden girl," saying Friday that Semenya "should be celebrated by all South Africans, despite attempts by the IAAF to humiliate her."

The ANC women's league said its leaders would be at airport, too, and that other members would hold protests across South Africa on Tuesday. The women's league said questions about Semenya's gender "suggest that women can only perform to a certain level and that those who exceed this level should be men."

Butana Komphela, chairman of a parliamentary sports committee, cited both sexism and racism in a statement Friday. The South African Press Association quoted him as saying Friday that his committee would soon lodge a complaint with the U.N. Commissioner of Human Rights asking for an investigation into the IAAF's "gross and severe undermining" of Semenya's rights and privacy.

"Just because she is black and she surpassed her European competitors, there is all this uproar," Khompela was quoted as saying.

Race is never far from sport in South Africa, where apartheid leaders lavished money and attention on sports embraced by the white minority such as rugby and cricket, while black players and fans languished in dilapidated stadiums. Soccer is seen as the sport of blacks, and excitement over South Africa becoming the first African nation to host a soccer World Cup have been tempered by charges from some blacks that white South Africans didn't support the bid and won't go to the games.

The head of the South African track federation, Leonard Chuene, was among those raising race in the Semenya case.

"It would not be like that if it were some young girl from Europe," Chuene told the AP by telephone. "If it was a white child, she would be sitting somewhere with a psychologist, but this is an African child."

The teenager's stunning and recent improvement in times, along with her muscular build and deep voice, sparked speculation about her gender.

Hours before she won the 800 final Wednesday, the IAAF confirmed a complex set of gender tests was under way.

The IAAF has been criticized in South Africa and elsewhere for going public, particularly given 18-year-old Semenya's youth and inexperience.


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