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TRACK AND FIELD

Agreement in Caster Semenya case doesn't answer key questions

The South African runner will keep her gold medal, title and prize money from the 2009 World Track and Field Championships. But will she be able to continue competing against women?

November 20, 2009|By Philip Hersh

The Caster Semenya case seems far from being resolved, even if the South African government said in a statement today that it has reached an agreement with the international track federation allowing Semenya to keep her gold medal, title and prize money from the 2009 World Track and Field Championships.

The South Africa statement does not answer the most significant ongoing questions: whether Semenya, 18, will be able to continue competing against women -- or whether she will want to.

"The implications of the scientific findings on Caster's health and life going forward will be analyzed by Caster, and she will make her own decision on her future," the South Africa statement said.

"Whatever she decides, ours is to respect her decision."

The statement was posted to the Sport and Recreation South Africa website today.

At almost the same time, the international track federation (IAAF) issued a statement saying its council would not discuss the complex gender-related case, as had been expected, at its meeting beginning Friday.

The IAAF statement also said the medical testing of Semenya was yet to be completed and that the federation will not comment on the medical aspects of the case.

The New York office of the law firm working on Semenya's behalf, Dewey & Lebouef, declined to confirm the South African government's statement or comment on anything related to the case.

Phone and text messages left with IAAF spokesman Nick Davies and IAAF general secretary Pierre Weiss were not returned.

Semenya's Aug. 19 victory in the 800 meters at the world championships in Berlin touched off a firestorm of controversy when beaten rivals from Russia and Italy said they did not believe Semenya was a woman.

Semenya was a runaway winner, with a time, 1 minute, 55.45 seconds, bettered by only a dozen women in history. It was more than eight seconds better than her personal best entering the 2009 season.

Such a drop in time always raises questions about doping.

The IAAF announced immediately after her victory that Semenya had undergone physical, physiological and psychological testing in Berlin and South Africa to determine whether she has an unfair advantage of any sort as compared with other women.

An Australian newspaper, the Daily Telegraph, reported on Sept. 11 that the tests had shown Semenya is a hermaphrodite, with a mix of male and female sexual features. The report, citing a source "closely involved" with the examinations, said she has internal male testes and external female genitalia but no womb or ovaries.

That leaked information added to anger in South Africa that began as soon as the IAAF said Semenya was under investigation.

"We have asked the IAAF to apologize at the way the whole Caster Semenya saga was dealt with," the South African government statement said. "Their response is: 'It is deeply regrettable that information of a confidential nature entered the public domain.' The IAAF is adamant that the public discourse did not originate with them.

"We also cannot prove the contrary. It is our considered view that this chapter of blame apportioning must now be closed. The sport bodies must be allowed to deal with the rest of the investigations in terms of their own regulations."

phersh@tribune.com

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