#HandsOffCaster: South Africa Rallies For Intersex Athlete Favored To Win Gold

#HandsOffCaster: South Africa Rallies For Intersex Athlete Favored To Win Gold

From Rand Daily Mail. Story by Katharine Child.

Caster Semenya is set to become the first South African woman to win gold in athletics in decades but when she takes to the track in the 800-meter heats in Rio, she will do so surrounded by controversy similar to what she experienced in 2009.

The 800-meter women’s final is scheduled for 8:15 p.m. GMT-3 on Saturday Aug. 20 at the Rio Olympics.

The furor over the 25-year-old athlete, who was subjected to unprecedented scrutiny and humiliation seven years ago when she was forced to undergo sex verification, has resurfaced because her 800-meter times have improved by six seconds, making her the favorite to win gold.

Semenya, widely described as ”intersex,” has come under international scrutiny for benefiting from a 2015 ruling by the Court of Arbitration for Sport in Switzerland. The ruling allowed athletes with hyperandrogenism (increased levels of testosterone) to compete without taking hormones to suppress the natural production of testosterone.

The uproar has sparked a backlash, with South Africans rallying around the Limpopo star who refers to her critics as “haters.”

#HandsoffCaster on Twitter has been trending with tens of thousands of supportive messages tweeted. More than 17,000 tweets made the hashtag South Africa’s top trend last weekend.

xhanti@XhantiPayi tweeted: “I know Caster Semenya is a woman because people are trying to control her body.” The tweet was retweeted nearly 900 times.

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Hanowan @aghostbaby tweeted: “They made a doc lauding Phelps’s genetic superiority but call for Caster Semenya not to compete because of hers #handsoffcaster.

The ANC in Gauteng tweeted: “She remains a hero to many in SA and we will defend her from skewed conceptions of femininity in sport #wesupportcaster #handsoffcaster.

Semenya has not spoken to the media in Rio but in a series of tweets refers to her critics as “haters”.

In one, Semenya says: “I truly believe haters are my motivators.”

In another tweet, she says: “Don’t quit. Suffer now and live the rest of your life as champion.”

And this: “I am who I am and I am proud of it.”

This week several publications, including Sports Illustrated, asked: “Is it fair for Caster Semenya to compete against women at Rio?”

Britain’s Daily Mail asked: “Should Caster Semenya be allowed to compete as a woman?”

The problem is sport has two sex categories – male and female – but many people are intersex, which makes it impossible to determine their sex.

Intersex and transgender people “have rights, too, including the right to compete in sport,” said Johanna Harper, an athlete and scientist. But she believes the court ruling allowing uncapped testosterone is bad for women.

“Those intersex athletes who previously used medication to reduce their testosterone and are now off those medications, are running faster. Allowing these athletes to compete in women’s sport with their serious testosterone-based advantage threatens the very fabric of women’s sport.”

Harper, herself transgender, noticed she and other transgender athletes ran 12 percent slower when reducing their testosterone while transitioning from male to female. This led her to believe testosterone gives an unfair advantage to some.

But Stanford University ethicist and scientist Katrina Karkazis, who is writing a book on testosterone, argues in an interview with www.bitchmedia.com against forcing intersex people to lower their testosterone.

These interventions carry side effects that can be debilitating to an athlete and are “discriminatory,” she said.  “When a man’s unusually high testosterone level is found to be natural, questions end there. But for women, even when their testosterone is natural, they face further investigation. If we care about gender equity, women would be treated as men currently are: case closed.”

In 2009 Semenya faced sex verification, a complex invasive procedure, by both Athletics South Africa and the IAAF after winning the 800 meter at the World Championships in Berlin.

The IAAF advised Semenya to get surgery because of the potential health issues caused by her condition. In July 2010 the IAAF cleared Semenya to compete. In 2011 the body decided that they would limit, through medication, the amount of testosterone a female athlete could have naturally in the blood. This was challenged successfully in 2015 by Indian sprinter and intersex athlete Dutnee Chand.

Semenya competed in the 2012 London Olympics, winning silver. Many said she held back in the race to avoid further controversy.

Read more at Rand Daily Mail.