Khaya Dlanga
Khaya Dlanga

Semenya: It’s about gender not race

Let me start off by saying that Caster Semenya is a chick until proven a dude. Oh, hang on, she has been proven to be a chick by her parents, her teachers and her friends, mind you.

The accusations of racism levelled at the IAAF have been a bit excessive. But one can understand why this would be our first line of attack. The problem with screaming racism every time one has been affronted causes some to turn a deaf ear because they start thinking “oh boy, here we go again” even when the claims are in fact legitimate. It does the fight against racism a disservice. The key is to know when to cry racism. I am not so naïve to claim that there might not be any elements of racism in the IAAF.

But let me start off by saying how incredibly proud I am of Semenya. She did a sterling job and she is so young, far too young to be going through this. I have been incredibly proud of the manner in which she carried herself and still managed to win with all that focus on her. I felt personally affronted at the end of her race when the commentators talked to her as though it was an obligation then promptly talked about the silver and bronze medallists as if they were the real winners. I was tempted to claim racism but then realised they were British, they praised the bronze medallist as if she were the winner, this was the case during the medal presentation too.

When Semenya ran for her province, several provinces lodged complaints because they suspected she was male. Tests came back proving she was in fact a young girl. According to news reports, Limpopo Athletics secretary Leon Bammau said a gender test was conducted on Semenya after an appeal was lodged by the National Secondary School Championships in 2007. He said the test results confirmed she was female. A second appeal was lodged by two provinces with regards to Semenya’s gender the same year.

He said a basic test was conducted: “A physical test was conducted on whether she has a female part. We did what we thought was necessary, thereafter there was no complaint.”

Of course no one accused any of these provinces of racism when they wanted proof that she was in fact a girl.

This is not racism. It’s a new, unnecessary and dehumanising debate on gender. If anything, those who tried to dehumanise her have done nothing but turn her into a national hero. If she carries on in this dignified manner I suspect she will become an international one too. She deserves to be. Not many young people could endure the pressure she has these past few days.

Many of us are confusing the issue. It’s about gender.

Why does the IAAF want to conduct more tests to prove whether she is female or not? How do we define what a female is if having female organs is not enough?

If we are truly honest with ourselves we will admit that we did think that she appeared to be and sounded like a man. Even so, she was not the only female athlete to resemble a man. When looking at the 100m and 200m sprinters, I remember saying to myself “I wouldn’t want to meet any of those in a dark alley” not in any alley in fact. There’s a difference between saying someone looks like a man and questioning their gender. I never questioned Semenya’s gender or that of the other female runners because it is something I have seen over and over again.

I had a bit of a persecution complex initially, I thought, first they tried to prevent Oscar Pistorius from running because they claimed he had an unfair advantage. It was all rather strange that a man with no legs had an advantage. He won the case but couldn’t train because he had spent so much time in court. It was just ridiculous.

If the IAAF is racist then how do we explain the success of so many black athletes? Do we turn a blind eye? Are we going to call it anti-South African perhaps?

A British newspaper claims to have access to Semenya’s preliminary test results. The results allegedly prove that Semenya has more testosterone than the average woman. Even if that is the case, how did they get the tests? For argument’s sake, let’s assume that she does in fact have more testosterone than the average woman, does that mean she ought to be disqualified for having a genetic advantage?

Professor Tim Noakes on Kaya FM asked how you decide what an unfair genetic advantage is. According to Noakes, some women will have more testosterone. He said most top athletes do in fact have a genetic advantage over others. What if Bolt is found to have superior genetic coding? Should he then be disqualified as well? I just wonder, what if she has more testosterone than the average professional female athlete but less than the male professional athlete? How do they decide what the threshold is? All I have to say to the IAAF and those bloody Australians is, leave Caster alone!

A friend of mine put it very well when she said (yes, she’s a she and I won’t be needing a gender test thank you): “I’m peeved that the Australians were the cause of this saga, how quickly they forget how we rallied behind Cathy Freeman!” Hear, hear!

Semenya first came to the prying eyes of the IAAF this year when she cut more than seven seconds off her best time of 2008. They then investigated possible doping violations but found nothing. Well, I say just because she pulled off a Superwoman effort doesn’t mean she’s not a woman.