Biggest issue surrounding Semenya remains unanswered
So this week's much anticipated news about South African women's world 800-meter champ
An agreement between the IAAF, the governing body for track and field, South Africa's government, and Semenya's lawyers will allow Semenya to
Given Semenya's prodigious rise to the top of the world -- she was a virtual unknown on the world scene until she dropped more than seven seconds from her 800-meter time between 2008 and '09 -- it seems likely that, if Semenya is allowed to continue competing without restriction, South Africa could soon have a world-record holder.
The IAAF has also now said that the tests conducted on Semenya to determine her sex will remain confidential. However, it will be obvious if Semenya disappears from competition that the tests gave the IAAF basis to classify Semenya as a male for the purposes of competition.
First off, if that report is accurate, then Semenya is an intersex individual, meaning that she does not fall entirely into either of the typical classifications schemes for a male or female. Consider the example of
One physiologist speculated to SI that Semenya, (if the report that she has three times a "normal" woman's testosterone is accurate) could have a body that is largely able to use the hormone -- giving her the carved appearance that ignited the ire of her rivals -- except that, for some reason, the internal testes she reportedly has never responded to testosterone and did not develop into a man's external genitalia.
So just for argument's sake, let's say that speculation is in fact true, that Semenya has, and is able to use, three times the testosterone of a "normal" woman. The definition for normal, in terms of testosterone output, is not cut and dry. Hormone levels vary widely between individuals, and even throughout a day. If one were to test the testosterone levels of female shot putters, for example, it is likely that they would be higher than those of random women.
However, the IAAF does have a hormone policy when it comes to dealing with men who change sex to become women. In that case, the IAAF policy says that the subject of the sex change must wait to compete until two years after the male genitalia are removed and hormone therapy is commenced, with "the crux of the matter ... that the athlete should not be enjoying the benefits of natural testosterone predominance normally seen in a male." So, even though hormone levels fluctuate, they are obviously important to the IAAF, and will likely factor into the ultimate decision.
If Semenya does indeed have internal testes that are producing excess testosterone, then doctors might recommend that they be removed for health reasons, as women with testes run a risk of testicular cancer. But what if Semenya declines to have such surgery? Several doctors who, in the 1990s, advised the IAAF to cease regular sex testing say that they consider it unjust to hold a medical problem against a competitor.
One of those doctors,
This is all to say that many possible scenarios exist, even if the