Monday, August 31, 2009

Semenya's Blues


As most of your know, I ran track in high school and my first two years of college so, I'm a very avid track fan, despite the fact that on this blog, I'm liable to talk about basketball, football, and baseball more than any other sports. I'm an even bigger boxing fan and have yet to do a blog post about boxing, other than the deaths of three greats this year.

Well, I've been following the World Track Championships and, like most people, I've been caught up in the near inhuman speeds of one Usain Bolt. Is he really that fast or is this a hoax? So, when the story of Casta Semenya broke, I barely noticed it. Despite all of the other stories of the World Track Championships, this one wouldn't go away... it just kept coming back. Here is her story in a nutshell...

For many South Africans, the international brouhaha about whether Caster Semenya is too masculine to compete in women’s track events has been an affront to everyone here, as if a callous world wants to peek beneath the entire nation’s boxers and panties to evaluate what it sees. Some commentators have found the matter so demeaning that they compare Semenya’s plight to that of Saartjie Baartman, an African woman taken to Europe in the early 19th century and exhibited like a wild beast under the name Hottentot Venus. Scientists scrutinized her genitals. Can you believe this?

Semenya returned home yesterday from Berlin, where last Wednesday she handily won the 800 meters race at the track and field World Championships. The victory came just hours after international track officials said that Semenya, a muscular and husky-voiced 18 year old, needed to undergo "sex determination" testing to confirm her further eligibility. (What the hell? Yes, I had to say that... What is sex determination testing?) Has there ever been any other sex determination tests done?

Since then, she has become a national hero and her story, the tale of a poor girl from a remote village, a source of inspiration. More than a thousand people greeted her at Johannesburg’s main airport. Many carried placards... “Our Golden Girl” or “Simply the Best.” As the crowd waited, they sang songs from the liberation struggle and danced to the beat of a bass drum.

Hours later, a 10-motorbike convoy led the track team to the presidential guest house in Pretoria. Semenya, in a track suit with her gold medal hanging around her neck, walked side-by-side with Jacob Zuma, the country’s leader, to face the media. The runner did not have much to say, constraining her comments to the race she won... “I took the lead in the 400 meters and I killed them. They couldn’t follow. I celebrated the last 200 because I knew, man.”

Zuma, speaking for an aggrieved nation, was edgier with his remarks. He said the government had written a letter to the International Association of Athletics Federations, the governing body for track and field, “expressing our disappointment” with the way things were handled. Anonymity is usually given during an IAAF investigation. Zuma said, “It is one thing to seek to ascertain whether or not an athlete has an unfair advantage over others. But, it is another to publicly humiliate an honest, professional, and competent athlete.”

Lamine Diack, the IAAF president, has admitted that confidentiality was breached, calling it “regrettable”, and asked for an inquiry. But, his admission has not dampened the outrage. South Africa is the continent’s richest nation. Scarred by apartheid, it is now a young democracy that in many ways is still trying to find its feet. The government is thin-skinned about criticism. Next year, the country will host soccer’s World Cup, a first for Africa. People here often speak as if the rest of the world, especially the West, hopes that the event will be a failure, confirming all their negative prejudices.

Similarly, Semenya’s travails are viewed as yet another effort to demean African success. Racism was again alleged during yesterday’s homecoming, an event that seemed less a spontaneous burst of enthusiasm by sports fans than a choreographed welcome by political professionals. Much of the crowd at the airport was bussed in by affiliates of the governing African National Congress. Other political parties sent smaller contingents. An additional celebration was held in an airport parking lot. Semenya had little to say from the podium except “Hi, everyone.” But, Julius Malema, the leader of the ANC youth league, made a pointed observation about the demographics of the crowd. He demanded to know, “Where are the white South Africans to welcome Caster?”

A back story to the controversy has been a guessing game about who complained to the IAAF about Semenya. News stories here have blamed unnamed Australians. But Tuesday, Leonard Chuene, the president of Athletics South Africa, claimed that secret evidence showed that the accuser was from South Africa, and Malema added that it was “a media institution.”

Chuene, who oversees the nation’s track program, has been the leading voice of defiance against the IAAF, quitting his position on the federation’s board over the issue. “We are not going to allow Europeans to define and describe our children,” he said... adding that South Africa will not cooperate in any gender testing by “some stupid university somewhere.” This entire incident is demeaning and utterly ridiculous, regardless of who lodged the complaint.

What it is saying is that this woman just can't be this fast, just can't be this good, and therefore, she must be a man. Would anybody dream of asking Usain Bolt or some Australian or German man to pull down his shorts so they check to see if he, in fact, has a penis? If Semenya was a tall and husky woman from the Netherlands or Sweden, would her gender still be questioned? I think not.

In all fairness, in the 1960's, the Soviet Union and East Europeans were often accused of entering men in women's events to get the advantage. But, to my knowledge, no one athlete was ever accused or had their identity revealed before the media like this woman. If there was any investigation, it was strictly confidential. During last year's Olympics, some female gymnasts from China were accused of being younger than their given age and you don't know the names of any of them, do you? What has happened to Semenya is just wrong on so many levels.

I'm calling for people of fair minds and good sportsman around the world to stand up for this young woman and put an end to this ridiculous farce! This is racism, sexism, and far worse... stupidity at its highest degree. And, this is frightening!

20 comments:

Sean said...

I have followed this shameful story.
Thanks for featuring it on your blog.

James Perkins said...

I hadn't heard about this...Thanks for bringing it to the forefront!

Sunflower said...

Thanks for standing up for this sister. I read about her plight on another blog..a blog that states that black male bloggers don't stand up for sisters..I knew that that wasn't true about you Keith!

Brenda said...

This is just deplorable!

Toni said...

What a shame that Black womanhood is once again being maligned..Thanks for featuring this story Keith.

Cheryl said...

That's just awful..

Simon Bastion said...

What they are doing to this young girl is deplorable..and I agree,it is racism and sexism at it's highest!

Jazzy said...

That's foul man!

Angie B. said...

I just saw her story on CNN..Apparently someone in her own country is hatin on the sidelines!

Lisa said...

I had not heard of this and I
am a big track fan too! Thanks for the spotlight on this grave injustice.

Halo said...

To the sister,I say stay strong,don't let the haters get you down!

Vanessa said...

Good ,informative post as usual Keith and timely too!

Captain Jack said...

Good Post Keith, what a shame that someone would try to malign a young girl like that after such a tremendous acheivement at the World Track and Field championships!

Tate2 said...

I had heard about this story last week..That was really foul what they were trying to say about her being a man and all!

Swaggie said...

These people have no regard for people's feelings or the fact that people have family and friends at home that have to hear this and also be hurt by it..I can't believe the cruelty of media types and so called "officials"

Grover Tha Playboy said...

Good Post Keith...That's foul what they sayin about that girl.

Thoughts of a Southern gal said...

She is only a kid. I hope she doesn't allow this to lower her self-esteem and continue to with track

puertas metalicas cortafuegos said...

What namely you're saying is a terrible mistake.

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