06 July 2010

Caster Semenya cleared to run

Caster Semenya is expected to be cleared to run against women again for the first time since Berlin in August 2009.


Caster Semenya is expected to be cleared to run against women again for the first time since Berlin in August 2009. The International Association of Athletics Federations and the local authorities are expected to announce within a few days the athlete is free to return to the track, ending one of the
biggest controversies ever to engulf the sport, reported the London Daily Telegraph Tuesday.

Semenya, 19, who has not raced since her runaway victory at the World Championships in Berlin last August, could be competing again as early as the World Junior Championships in Moncton, Canada, from  July 19-25.

Having missed so much of the season, the Commonwealth Games in Delhi in October is also likely to be a key target. 

The big question is whether the teenager will be able to match the extraordinary level of performance that first brought her to global attention when she won the African Championships in Mauritius in a world-leading time of 1 min 56.72 sec just a few weeks before clinching the world title in a super-quick 1 min 55.45 sec. 

Waiting in limbo

However, while her coach, Michael Seme, has admitted she has not been training at 100% due to the uncertainty over her future, it is also believed she has been undergoing medical treatment for an inter-sex condition. This, says Health24's FitnessDoc Dr Ross Tucker, is really the most important point.

"That alleged treatment, which I also believe to have taken place, holds the key to why this has taken so long. The IAAF find themselves in a difficult situation of having to avoid discrimination against any athlete - not only Semenya, as the SA sports fraternity wanted to believe. So their obligation was to ensure equality of competition without discrimination. 

"And there are a range of issues about this, from social to cultural, even religious, all of which have been had in various forms over the last 10 months."

Tucker added that from a sporting point of view the requirement is to manage the case to ensure that all athletes receive fair competition. 

"Treatment, to lower the testosterone levels and attempt to reduce any advantage as a result of high testosterone, would have had to take place, and that may be the reason this has taken so long to resolve," he said.

His assertion is backed up the Telegraph report which said "There were unconfirmed media reports last year that her gender test had revealed both male and female characteristics. The treatment for such a condition would involve surgery or, more likely, hormones, and would explain why it has taken so long to resolve her case. Either way, the treatment could have a major impact on her physical capability in the future."

It had been widely assumed Semenya had been waiting in limbo for 11 months for the results of gender verification tests carried out on her following her victory in Berlin.  

However, it is understood the teenager and her legal team have been closely involved in the process throughout and appointed their own experts to an independent panel of scientists and doctors which  has been monitoring her progress. 

The fact Semenya will now be free to compete in women's races suggests the treatment is complete to the satisfaction of the medical experts, though it is likely she will have to be monitored on an ongoing basis while she competes at elite level to ensure that she has no advantage over her rivals.

Legal tug of war

Tucker, however, said that while diagnosing the condition is a relatively simple procedure, knowing what to do about it, not as simple. 

"Over the last 8 or 9 months, the issue has probably been how to treat (if at all) to ensure competition. The legal teams on both sides would have had their requirements and I've no doubt at all that the IAAF would have been pushing for surgical removal of testes, where Semenya's camp would probably have resisted this. 

"The IAAF will probably have pushed for surgery as a key requirement for Semenya to continue her career in athletics - I'm not sure of the legal issues around this, but that is likely to have been their desire.  Semenya's team may have argued against this as an infringement on her right to decide on her medical treatment, and also to compete without that surgery. 

The eventual compromise may have been medical/hormonal treatment, and the process of the treatment and monitoring the response to that treatment would take time to track.  Hence the delay," he said.

Shrouded in controversy
Semenya's hopes of resuming her career were raised last month when, on the eve of the football World Cup, South African sports minister Makhenkesi Stofile called a news conference in Johannesburg to announce that she had been cleared to run.  

Last year, Stofile had threatened "Third World War" if Semenya was prevented from racing by the IAAF. 

The high-profile announcement, which was due to be attended by Semenya and lawyers, was called off at the 11th hour after the IAAF insisted the process was not yet complete and that Stofile had jumped the gun, but not before Semenya released a statement expressing her delight. 

She said: "I am overjoyed at the fact that the medical teams have come to the right conclusion. I look forward to competing over the course of the coming athletics season."  

One month later, Semenya is set to get her wish and put a turbulent year behind her. Although the whispers about her masculine features had begun at  the 2008 Commonwealth Youth Games in Pune, India, it was her astonishing performance at the African Championships that prompted the IAAF to ask Athletics South Africa to carry out a gender test on the athlete. 

The findings were "not good", according to a leaked report by ASA team doctor Harold Adams, but ASA president Leonard Chuene took the fateful decision to allow her to run in Berlin, exposing the shy teenager to global humiliation as controversy raged about whether she was a man or a woman.
Chuene, who originally denied that a gender test had been carried out before admitting that he lied, was subsequently suspended along with the rest of the ASA board. 

The issue now for the IAAF is to learn the lessons of the Semenya saga and ensure there is no repeat in future gender cases. 

The IAAF medical commission has been examining the governing body's rules and procedures and is likely to make recommendations to the IAAF Council at its meeting in Kiev next month. Any changes to the rules would then be put to the full congress in Monaco in November before coming into force on Jan 1. - (Sapa, July 2010)




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