South African runner Caster Semenya,is allowed to return to professional competition after nearly a year of being subjected to gender testing by the International Association of Athletics Federation (IAAF). Colorlines reports that the IAAF ruled that Semenya is “female-enough” and can retain her gold medals after months of dehumanizing gender tests and public scrutiny. According to the Associated Press, Semenya said, “I have been subjected to unwarranted and invasive scrutiny of the most intimate and private details of my being” in a statement released yesterday.
Semenya’s lawyer, Jeffrey Kessler said, “We are delighted that Caster is finally being permitted to compete with other women, as is her legal and natural right…Hopefully, this resolution will set a precedent so that no female athlete in the future will have to experience the long delays and public scrutiny which Caster has been forced to endure,” reported the Associated Press.
The Associated Press reports Semenya plans to return to competition in Finland at the Lappeenranta Games on July 15.
The fact that the IAAF conducted a gender test on Semenya was leaked to the media just prior the 800 meter race at the World Championships in Berlin in August 2009, where she won the gold medal. According to the BBC, the gender test became public only because a related fax was sent to the incorrect person. The IAAF reportedly initiated the test because of previous testing indicating Semenya has elevated testosterone levels and because of her quick improvement in performance prior to bursting onto the national athletic scene.
The practice of sex testing began in Eastern Europe in the 1960s. The first time Olympic athletes were tested was at the 1968 Mexico City Games. At the 1996 Games in Atlanta, eight athletes failed the tests, but were later cleared. A variety of concerns led the International Olympic Committee to stop requiring the tests in 1999. Several female athletes, including runners Santhi Soundarajan of India and Ewar Kobukkowska of Poland have been stripped of their medals after failing sex tests. Testing is a controversial practice in athletics, in part because chromosomal abnormalities may cause women to fail the tests, even though they may have no competitive advantages.