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13 Sep 2009 08:16
South African runner Caster Semenya has gone into hiding and is receiving trauma counselling in the wake of claims that gender tests have shown she is a hermaphrodite.
Semenya (18) won the women’s 800m at the World Championships in Berlin last month. But her masculine build raised questions about her gender and tests after the race showed her testosterone levels sharply exceeded the average for a woman.
As Semenya withdrew from a 4km cross-country race in Pretoria on Saturday, Athletics South Africa spokesperson Phiwe Mlangeni-Tsholetsane confirmed the athlete was receiving counselling but denied a report that she is suicidal.
Mlangeni-Tsholetsane said: “She has not mentioned suicide.
South African athletics officials met for a second day on Saturday to discuss the controversy and said they would make a statement on Sunday. International athletics officials have said their verdict will be delivered at the end of November but that the world champion is unlikely to be stripped of her Berlin medal.
On Thursday, Australian media claimed to have obtained leaked details of the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) tests. The Sydney Daily Telegraph said these showed that the 800m world champion has a chromosomal abnormality that means she has no womb or ovaries but internal testes that produce the male hormone, testosterone.
Mlangeni-Tsholetsane said: “The latest claim is so huge that the issue is now bigger than we can cope with. All we can do is help Caster.”
The spokesperson said Semenya has cancelled all engagements and interviews. “She is receiving trauma counselling. Every day she meets with psychologists who are trying to help her through what is happening around her. We are concerned for her wellbeing.’‘
The issue has prompted furious reactions from South African politicians, including President Jacob Zuma, and from the country’s athletics officials who claim Semenya’s privacy has been violated by the IAAF. International athletics officials have refused officially to confirm or deny the veracity of the Australian report.
On Friday, South African Sports Minister Makhenkesi Stofile threatened “third world war’’ should the IAAF ban Semenya. “We will go to the highest levels in contesting such a decision.’‘
Athletics South Africa head Leonard Chuene resigned from the IAAF board in protest at its handling of the affair but has now hinted that he regrets the move. He said more information was needed: “They told us this week that the tests are inconclusive and they could not give us the results just yet. So I really don’t know where the Australian media got this latest one from.’‘
In South Africa, opposition politicians have laid the blame on local athletics bosses, saying they should have foreseen the potential for controversy and tested Semenya before entering her in the World Championships. Donald Lee, a Democratic Alliance sports spokesman, said Athletics South Africa had behaved in a “cold and callous’’ manner, motivated purely by the pursuit of medals.
“Caster Semenya’s dignity has been walked over and her privacy denigrated.’‘
Semenya, who is a student at the University of Pretoria, comes from the small village of Ga-Masehlong in the north of the country. She won the 800m in Berlin in August in 1:55,45 seconds. - guardian.co.uk
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