September 11, 2009

PRETORIA, South Africa (AP) -- Reports on Friday that gender testing on South Africa's running sensation has determined she has hidden male sexual organs triggered outrage and dealt a blow to her family, who may have been unaware of the reported condition. And, foremost, there is worry about how the 18-year-old will handle all this.

Newspaper reports from Australia said testing determined Caster Semenya has internal testes, meaning the runner herself, who was raised in a poor village, may have been unaware of such a condition.

And now such intimate details are there for the world to see.

The International Association of Athletics Federations, which ordered the testing, refused to confirm or deny the reports. The IAAF said it is reviewing the test results and will not issue any final decision until November at their meeting in Monaco.

The president of the International Olympic Committee wishes the investigation into South African runner Caster Semenya's gender could be handled with more anonymity and discretion.

IOC president Jacques Rogge says the case could have serious psychological repercussions on Semenya, who won the women's 800 meters at last month's world championships in Berlin.

Rogge told The Associated Press in a telephone interview on Friday that "this is something that touches the very soul of the individual."

He added, "The psychological but also social consequences are really tremendous."

Semenya's gender came under scrutiny as a result of her stunning improvements in her 800-meter times and her muscular build and deep voice.

South African Sports Minister Makhenkesi Stofile held a press conference Friday to express his horror at the handling of the whole affair. He insisted Caster, who won gold at the world athletic championships in August, is female and that lack of a womb should not disqualify her from women's competition.

"We think her human rights have been violated and her privacy invaded," Stofile said. "I don't know why she is being subjected to this."

Stofile said that with the world being told that she is a hermaphrodite, another youngster might be driven to commit suicide, adding: "It can be as bad as that."

Semenya, who has a low voice and whose body ripples with muscles, dropped out of sight Friday and was not expected to appear at a race in Pretoria over the weekend, as had been planned. She has told reporters she is happy the way she is and seemed to take the controversy in stride when she appeared on the cover of a South African magazine earlier this week wearing makeup, gold jewelry and a dress, foregoing the pants she normally wore.

Semenya's father, Jacob, expressed anger when contacted by The Associated Press on Friday, saying people who insinuate his daughter is not a woman "are sick. They are crazy."

He said he had not been told anything by the IAAF or Athletics South Africa, the local governing body.

"I know nothing," he said.

South African President Jacob Zuma condemned the media, saying they had exploited Semenya, who won the women's world 800-meter race in Berlin.

"I don't think we should play around with people's lives and their privacy," Zuma said. He said that the reports violate principles of respect and privacy and that doctor and patient confidentiality should be upheld.

Stofile, speaking at a press conference, said he has no doubts about Semenya's gender.

"She's a woman, she remains our heroine. We must protect her," he said.

Ordinary South Africans shared the outrage.

"I think it is disgusting, the way it has been handled," said Richard Redman, 25, a film student in Johannesburg. "It shouldn't have been made public because the girl is 18 years old ... How is she going to handle that? She may think of killing herself. She has lived her whole life as a woman and now she is told she is a bit of both."

Fiona Dube, a 22-year-old, waitress, said: "I pity her because of the way she found out. I think her privacy has been invaded. Now the whole world knows. It is not like she chose to be that way."

The Australian newspaper reported that medical reports on Semenya indicate she has no ovaries and has internal male testes, which produce large amounts of testosterone.

At a news conference in Greece on Friday, IAAF general secretary Pierre Weiss, IAAF vice president Sergei Bubka and other association officials refused to comment and instead distributed a written statement to reporters.

"We would like to emphasize that these should not be considered as official statements by the IAAF," the statement said. "We can officially confirm that gender verification test results will be examined by a group of medical experts."

IAAF rules say its medical delegate has the authority "to arrange for the determination of the gender of an athlete."

But proving one's gender isn't always so easy. Aside from the obvious physical signs, chromosomes usually determine whether a person is male or female. Males are born with XY chromosomes while females have two X chromosomes.

These people may have the physical characteristics of both genders, a chromosomal disorder, or simply have ambiguous features. The condition is generally referred to as intersexuality. The older term for someone who has both male and female organs is hermaphrodite.

In an e-mail to The Associated Press, IAAF spokesman Nick Davies said Thursday the IAAF had obtained the results but couldn't confirm the Australian news reports.

"I simply haven't seen the results," Davies said. "We have received the results from Germany, but they now need to be examined by a group of experts and we will not be in a position to speak to the athlete about them for at least a few weeks.

Davies said the newspaper's report "should be treated with caution."

The IAAF has said Semenya probably would keep her medal because the case was not related to a doping matter.

"Our legal advice is that, if she proves to have an advantage because of the male hormones, then it will be extremely difficult to strip the medal off her, since she has not cheated," Davies wrote to the AP. "She was naturally made that way, and she was entered in Berlin by her team and accepted by the IAAF. But let's wait and see once we have the final decision."

Leonard Chuene, the president of Athletics South Africa, told the AP that all he has heard from the IAAF is that the test results will be available in November.

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