IAAF urges caution over Semenya intersex claims

The front cover of You magazine shows Semenya after a recent makeover.
The governing body for world athletics has urged caution over reports that world-champion South African runner Caster Semenya has both male and female sexual organs.

The Sydney Morning Herald in Australia and The Sun newspaper in Britain reported that gender tests ordered by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) show the 18-year-old is a hermaphrodite. Neither paper named the source of their information. IAAF spokesman Nick Davies would not discuss the findings with CNN. “I simply haven’t seen the results,” Davies said. “We have received the results from Germany, but they now need to be examined by a group of experts and we will not be in a position to speak to the athlete about them for at least a few weeks. “After that, depending on the results, we will meet privately with the athlete to discuss further action.” Has Semenya been treated fairly The IAAF issued a statement, saying no decision on the case will be announced until the experts can look at the results. A final decision regarding the case is not expected before the IAAF Council meets in late November in Monaco, the IAAF said. Davies also said the news reports should be treated with caution. The newspapers said extensive physical examinations of Semenya show she has no ovaries, but rather has internal testes, which are producing large amounts of testosterone. “Our legal advice is that, if she proves to have an advantage because of the male hormones, then it will be extremely difficult to strip the medal off her, since she has not cheated,” Davies told CNN.

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Semenya won the women’s 800-meters gold medal at the World Athletics Championships in Berlin last month. She crushed her rivals by streaking away to secure victory in 1 minute, 55.45 seconds — the best women’s time in the world this year. Defending champion Janeth Jepkosgei of Kenya took the silver and Jennifer Meadows of Britain claimed bronze. The IAAF said it was seeking tests on Semenya’s gender even before that race. Davies said questions about her were first raised after her astonishing displays at the African junior championships in July, with her masculine build and surprising performance fueling the rumors. Semenya’s father and the South Africa team manager maintain the athlete is a female. Thousands of supporters crammed the airport in Johannesburg when she returned from Berlin last month. And this week, the athlete appeared on the cover of a South African magazine wearing makeup, jewelry and a glamorous dress. Under IAAF rules, any time there is suspicion about an athlete’s gender, the athlete can be asked to attend a medical evaluation before a panel consisting of a gynecologist, an endocrinologist, a psychologist, an internal medicine specialist and an expert on gender issues. There are chromosome tests and scans of the athlete’s body, Davies has said. He called gender verification — which is generally required only for female athletes — “an extremely complex procedure.” The process of gender verification has undergone big changes since it was first introduced for international competition in the 1960s, the IAAF said. The first mechanism involved “rather crude and perhaps humiliating physical examinations,” which soon gave way to mouth swabs to collect chromosomes, the IAAF said. There were too many uncertainties regarding the mouth swabs, so the IAAF abandoned them in 1991 and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) discontinued them in 2000, the IAAF said. A proper test has yet to be found, the IAAF said, and the current round of tests is considered a good interim solution.