Socialist Worker

Caster Semenya's success should be celebrated, not denigrated

Issue No. 2518

Caster Semenya and Minister of Sports Fikile Mbalula on her return from the Olympics

Caster Semenya and Minister of Sports Fikile Mbalula on her return from the Olympics (Pic: GovernmentZA Flickr)


South African athlete Caster Semenya won the women’s 800 metre gold medal at the Olympics.

But she immediately faced a storm of criticism as, completely naturally, she has high testosterone levels. She is therefore accused of not really being a woman.

Many of the winners in Rio had advantages such as money and time for training, skilled back-up teams, unusual physical characteristics of strength and height and—no doubt—performance-enhancing drugs.

But only Semenya faces calls to be removed from competition.

British athlete Paula Radcliffe said Semenya should “take medication” to suppress the testosterone levels, or “have an operation or choose not to compete”.

Lord Sebastian Coe, president of the International Association of Athletics Federations wants Semenya banned from competition.

Such threats lead to the mutilation of women. In 2013 four young female athletes from poor countries, all with high but entirely natural levels of testosterone, were sent to a clinic in France where doctors proposed major surgery including partially removing their clitorises. All four agreed and were allowed to race at future events.

The body of Caster Semenya, and of any other woman, is nobody’s business but their own. Her success should be celebrated, not denigrated. Sport should not be used in an effort to impose gender stereotypes and reactionary ideas about “real women”.


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