martes, 13 de septiembre de 2011

Some Respect for Caster Semenya

Caster Semenya celebrates her silver medal at Daegu World Championships
Photo: Getty Images/ IAAF
           Caster Semenya was unable to defend her 800 metres World title in Daegu but no one could have thought she was disappointed, because of being beaten by Mariya Savinova.  The Russian covered the last stages of the race smiling, once she was sure of her victory.  The South African started smiling too once she crossed the finish line, elated with her silver medal achievement.  It was a nice reward after so many painful moments in the last two years.  It was perhaps the end of a long nightmare.  Who could not have loved this girl so sincere and emotive, congratulating her rival and being so grateful to everybody in the stadium. 
… It seems a lot of people!  After Semenya’s excellent showing in her semi-final, which pointed her as the favourite, too many spectators were just relieved and glad of watching her lose the decisive race. Again the same sterile debate about whether she is a man or a woman, the same bad taste jokes and the same lack of tact and sensitivity about her feelings. Common people, some athletes and plenty of journalists all seem instinctively biased against the Limpopo girl.  Even in Daegu’s press box, where people is supposed to not encourage athletes, we could live the unusual situation of international media members cheering loudly as Savinova was passing Semenya. (1)
But what has she done the South African middle distance runner to deserve all this almost unanimous animosity?  She has not been rude or impolite on the track or talking to the media (actually she has been very little in front of journalists). She has not been a drug cheater. So what? Well, she is abnormally muscled for a girl; her looks and voice are not really feminine. So she must be repulsive for some. In other words: she is different.  And how ready are we to understand and accept this difference? I am disappointed about the way humanity is increasingly xenophobe, sexist or homophobe, no matter how science has progressed in the last centuries. Discrimination is far from being eradicated and respect to each other is not easily attainable. It happens also in Track and Field.  In the same championship, another South African athlete, double amputee Oscar Pistorius was incomprehensibly left out of the national squad for the 4x400 relay final, despite being the second fastest in the team in the seasonal lists and besides having run a flawless leg in the heats.  There was a controversy about whether the “blade runner” had an advantage over the rest of the field, because of his carbon fibre legs, but once he was allowed to run he should have been treated the same way as any other athlete.

Caster Semenya was also thought to be superior of the other half-milers because of her abnormal levels of testosterone for a woman.  Specialists stated it was impossible for a teen athlete to win so overwhelmingly a world championship final as she did in Berlin and with such fast clocking. Nevertheless, another junior, Pamela Jelimo, had run just the precedent year even faster to win the Olympic Games. The IAAF considered it was needed to unbury the old gender tests to find out if there was an unfair advantage.  It was maybe necessary but things were not done properly since the very beginning.  The South African Athletics Federation (ASA) had undergone a first analysis, lying reportedly to Semenya about the purpose of it, saying to her it was just a drug testing procedure. The affair finished with the resignation of Caster’s coach, who felt unable to protect her and the dismissal of the ASA responsibles by the South African Olympic Committee. (2) After Semenya’s triumph in the Worlds, the IAAF decided to carry out further gender verifications, forbidding the athlete to compete until the end of the process, which would last for nearly a year.  Was it necessary so much?  It was a really bad time for Semenya.  There were even moments the athlete would refuse to keep on training, because of the uncertainty of her future.  Authorities thought it was better for Semenya not to make any statement to the press; instead, she was convinced to appear in a local magazine, with make up and transformed in an attractive and feminine woman, in a ridiculous cover, in which she was trying to be what she is not.  
The required confidentiality of the medical tests was altogether obliterated when the Australian newspaper Daily Telegraph revealed, citing sources close to the IAAF, the supposed hermaphrodite nature of Semenya, advising her strongly to have immediate surgery because of the grave risks for her health which carried her condition. (3) The Athletics governing body dissociated themselves of this information and regretted the way it was revealed.  However, leak or speculation, it is easy to see how harmful must be this negligent acting for the athlete itself.  Furthermore, the information revealed by the newspaper, looking for an easy audience, has been widely assumed by most of the international press. Other interested media dug deeper in the wound, probing Caster’s childhood and showing pictures of her in shirt and blue jeans, while her female classmates were all wearing blouse and skirt, concluding she was undeniably a tomboy. Wisely, the IAAF has kept the secret about the final results, which seemed to be everybody’s concern, when they eventually decided to allow Semenya competing again in July 2010.
Nonetheless this decision, which took so much time and should be enough to legitimate Caster’s athletic career, the same insensitive talking continues and doubts keep being generated by the media.  The South African athlete had had an irregular season, prior to Daegu and then was stated it was due to medical treatment to reduce her testosterone levels, following a deal with the IAAF, in exchange of letting her compete.  Another leak?  More speculation?  Caster Semenya would rather ignore all the talking and do her job and she did it very well in Daegu.  Anyway, some people should think about, whatever her sex nature is, there is no doubt Semenya is a human being and she deserves some respect for it. (4)   

Caster Semenya with friends at their training facility in Pretoria
Photo: Jeffrey Barbee
Please read the awesome article published by the Guardian