Semenya withdraws from event amid firestorm of anger
Caster Semenya has withdrawn from a weekend race amid speculation about the South African runner's gender.
The South African Press Association quotes her coach, Michael Seme, as saying she will not take part in the 4,000 meters at the national cross country championships in Pretoria on Saturday.
He had said earlier this week that Semenya would run.
Asked Friday why she withdrew, Seme said she was "not feeling well."
Gender tests on Semenya determined she has internal male sexual organs, Australian newspapers reported Friday, triggering new outrage from South Africa and her father, who called her critics "crazy" and "sick."
The International Association of Athletics Federations, which ordered the testing, refused to confirm or deny the reports in the Sydney Daily Telegraph and the Sydney Morning Herald that Semenya is a hermaphrodite with no ovaries and internal testes that produce large amounts of testosterone.
The IAAF said it is reviewing the test results on the 18-year-old runner and will not issue a final decision until November.
South African Sports Minister Makhenkesi Stofile expressed his horror at the handling of the affair and insisted Caster, who won the 800-meter race at the world championships in Berlin last month, is female.
"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."
Semenya dropped out of sight Friday. She had burst onto the scene by posting a world-leading time of 1 minute, 56.72 seconds at the African junior championships, and in July, the international federation asked South African track and field authorities to conduct the gender verification test.
Semenya won the 800 in Berlin on Aug. 19 by 2.45 seconds in a world-record 1:55.45, but her dramatic improvement in times, muscular build and deep voice sparked speculation about her gender.
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."
International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge said the case could have serious psychological repercussions.
"This is something that touches the very soul of the individual," Rogge told The Associated Press in a telephone interview. "The psychological but also social consequences are really tremendous. This is something that preferably should be handled discreetly if you have the time to do that."
Semenya has said she is happy the way she is and appeared on the cover of a South African magazine earlier this week wearing makeup, gold jewelry and a dress.
Semenya's father, Jacob, expressed anger when contacted by the AP 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.
"I don't think we should play around with people's lives and their privacy," he said.
Stofile, speaking at a news 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."
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.
"We would like to emphasize that these should not be considered as official statements by the IAAF," according to a statement the IAAF officials distributed. "We can officially confirm that gender verification test results will be examined by a group of medical experts."
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.
In an e-mail to the AP, IAAF spokesman Nick Davies said Thursday the IAAF had obtained the results but couldn't confirm the Australian reports.
The IAAF has said Semenya probably would keep her medal because the case was not related to a doping matter.
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.
Associated Press writers Stephen Wilson in London, Nkemeleng Nkosi in Johannesburg, Courtney Brooks in Kleinmond, South Africa and Costas Kantouris in Thessaloniki, Greece, contributed to this report.
(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)