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Saturday, August 22, 2009

Genetic Freaks: Semenya & Bao. One Gets Humiliation, the Other Gets an NBA Contract. Why?

By now, many people have heard of Caster Semenya. The 18 year-old South African runner first made the news for her stellar run in the African Junior Championships, but had her victory tainted by competitors who insisted that the IAFF, (the International Association of Athletics Federations), should test Semenya’s gender to see if she is 100% female, not just physically, but biologically
Rather than a mere physical exam, where genitalia is the determining factor, the IAFF is calling for an months-long process of gender testing, involving several specialists and exhaustive testing.
I find it disturbing that anyone, least of all an 18 year-old, would be subjected to forced gender testing in order to appease their competitors. It might be another matter if Semenya was a boy disguised as a girl in order to compete, but that’s not the accusation. Semenya was born and raised as a girl, and those in the position to know — her parents and a former roommate — attest that she does not have, and has never had, a penis.
Lacking proof of actual male genitalia, Semenya’s competitors hope that the IAFF testing will reveal some other anomaly that will effectively kick Semenya out of the women’s category. Among the specialists that will participate in Semenya’s anticipated de-womanizing is a psychologist. I wonder what the outcome might be if Semenya’s DNA comes back as XX, but her thought processes are considered more male. Would the IAFF consider this an unfair “advantage” in women’s sports?
And what happens if Semenya isn’t an XX or an XY, but an oddly tall and vigorous XO? Genetically, she would be a female, but one with a missing chromosome. Should anomalous genetic makeup disqualify Semenya from women’s sports? If so, then shouldn’t other genetic freaks like, say, NBA basketball star Yao Ming, also be disqualified since his 7′6″ frame clearly gives him an advantage over his tall but genetically normal competitors? Should he and other overly tall basketball players be checked for mutations of the NSD-1 gene, which can cause gigantism? Is it fair to others to allow Ming to professionally compete?
If the IFAA determination is that DNA is more important than genitalia in separating men from women in sports, then why not test all effeminate males? That’s a rhetorical question, because male athletes have not been subjected to gender testing like females regularly were up until 1999, when the International Olympic Committee passed a resolution to stop the practice.

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