What is behind the hounding of Semenya?

Author:Goodwin, Clayton
Position:Sport
 
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Once again, South Africa's superb middle-distance runner, Caster Semenya finds herself in the crosshairs of the IAAF. She has been ordered to bring down her levels of natural testosterone or face a ban. She has appealed and the judgement will be delivered at the end of this month. But, asks Clayton Goodwin, what is the real motive behind this targeting of one of the world's best athletes?

Caster Semenya should be basking in the adulation of an exceptional record, having dominated middle-distance running for a decade, and at 28 years old, be looking forward to yet more years of triumph. Although she runs on the flat, the South African has faced, and continues to face, more hurdles than any specialist in the event.

It isn't only Theresa May and her country which regard Friday 29 March 2019 with apprehension, as the day when the UK is due to plunge into the Brexit unknown, as Caster, too, will learn of her own future on that day.

For it is then that the Court of Arbitration for Sport is due to deliver its judgement on her appeal against the ruling of the IAAF (International Association of Athletics Federations), the sport's governing body, which would require her to bring down her levels of testosterone: the case is being heard in Lausanne, Switzerland as this issue goes to press.

Ever since she won the 800 metres gold medal at the Berlin World Championships in 2009, Semenya has been subjected to intense speculation and prurience.

I was fortunate to be in the stadium that hot August evening to see the then 18-year-old Caster flower down the back straight, leaving her competitors floundering in her wake. It was powerful; it was unusual; it was exceptional.

So exceptional, in fact, that even before the runner crossed the finish-line rumours about her gender had started to circulate. Semenya was all woman, the sceptics agreed, but wasn't she also 'woman--plus'? It was a suspicion that her subsequent postures in victory, flexing her biceps (in a macho if not exactly masculine mode), have done nothing to dispel.

For a time, Semenya was suspended from international competition while the IAAF and their medics argued about what was hyperandrogenism, or high natural levels of testosterone in women, and how it applied to her.

When she was allowed back on the track, Caster swept the board at her own 800 metres distance and challenged successfully at 400 metres and 1,500 metres. Ironically, she was awarded the 800 metres gold medal in the London Olympic...

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