All the rage this week was about the girl from across our border, Makgatho Caster Semenya.
After she won the 800m gold at the recent Berlin World Athletics Championships, the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) asked that she undergo a gender verification test.
The organisation cited Semenya’s exceptional performance as well as muscular frame and deep voice as the reason for her undergoing the test. Similar tests have led to disqualifications of some athletes in the past.
Admittedly, Semenya does have the said attributes and our gripe with the IAAF is not about the scientific logic behind the whole matter. We know the test is not as simple as asking her to drop her pants to prove that she is indeed a woman.
Our problem is how the whole matter has been handled right from the start.
Firstly, why did the IAAF and smaller athletics bodies wait for Caster to reach the World Championships before making her undergo these tests? Surely, she has participated in smaller athletics meetings in South Africa, and perhaps beyond, where such a test could have been done?
Some sports competitors have said the onus was on Athletics South Africa to get this test done much earlier but we remain convinced that the IAAF, as the global body, has a responsibility to ensure its affiliates act early to avoid complications at such an important stage.
That the same happened to an Indian athlete in 2006 leads us to believe that some people may be enjoying the media brouhaha that such a controversy raises.
Moreover, was it really necessary to hand over the medal to her, accompanied by the threat that “we’ll take it back if it turns out you’re more or less a boy”? Perhaps it would have been better for all concerned to delay the medals ceremony. After all there is a possibility that the whole medals table will change.
To wait for her to reach the global stage and then make such a fuss about it is certainly an unnecessary humiliation for the South African. For all the noise it has made about Caster, the IAAF wins the Noisemaker award for the week.
On a lighter note, we wonder if the IAAF will also recommend gender testing on male athletes from some countries who are constantly under-performing at world athletics meetings. Perhaps the guys who come last may be taken to the side for a spot check to see if they really are men?