Professional Athleticism or Sexual Discrimination?

~ Mahvish Qureshi ’10

Most people have heard about Caster Semenya the South African runner who impressed the world with her speed in the 800m and 1500m women’s track division at the 2009 African Junior Championships. Her quick speed in the races raised suspicions about her gender. Her time was 4:08 in the 1500m which is close to 4:02 the time of the slowest man who raced in the 1500m men’s division. While her gender identity may be female the question remains as to what is her sex. Test results have found that she has three times the normal level of testosterone for women and that she had no ovaries or uterus but does have internal testes. While this has caused many to rule Caster Semenya as a hermaphrodite the question still remains as to whether she will be allowed to keep her medal or not.

While the case of Caster Semenya has caught media’s attention, a small voice is starting to make itself heard in hopes of winning back a medal, which may be rightfully hers. Santhi Soundararajan won the 800m silver at the 2006 Asian Games. Her win raised suspicions about her gender and when tested it was revealed that she did not possess the sexual characteristics of a female.  It seems that Santhi may be exhibiting side effects of the same condition that Caster Semenya seems to have, Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome (AIS). While the body will produce testosterone it does not respond or react to the hormones level in its system. After this find Santhi’s medal was taken back on accounts of her ambiguous gender.

After Santhi’s medal was stripped from her she was shunned by the conservative Indian culture which did not understand where she stood in terms of sex. Santhi was so distraught by the news that she even went on to attempt suicide. Now Santhi has opened up her own training academy in her hometown and is flourishing well despite the complications she has faced in life.

The authorities are suggesting that if Caster is allowed to keep her medal, that Santhi’s case should be re-opened, after all exceptions can’t be made for only one person. Since both of the athletes seem to suffer from the same condition they should both face the same fate in terms of whether or not they get to keep the medal. Santhi argues that she was not able to fight before due to her economic background, however the publicity over Caster Semenya has given Santhi a new hope at the possibility of winning  back her medal.