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A scientific perspective on Semenya’s case

PARKTOWN – The controversial case regarding the ruling of IAAF against Caster Semenya was discussed at an Indaba held at the Sunnyside Hotel.

The case of celebrated athlete Caster Semenya prompted a discussion on global injustice in sport, which took place at the Sunnyside Park Hotel in Parktown.

Semenya was recently told by IAAF (International Association of Athletics Federations) to take medication to lower her testosterone levels. When she challenged the IAAF on this decision, CAS (Court of Arbitration for Sport) rejected her challenge.

The South African Medical Association (Sama), the SA National Bioethics Committee (NBC) (Unesco) and the Steve Biko Centre for Bioethics (SCBC) hosted an Indaba on the injustices, prejudice, and discrimination on a global level in relation to the IAAF regulations and the CAS findings on the challenge by Semenya.

Speaking at the Indaba, Professor Michael Pepper from the Institute for Cellular and Molecular Medicine at the University of Pretoria (UP) said that there are various reasons for gender and sexual diversity. “Determinants of gender and sexual diversity include biological sex, gender identity, sexual orientation and the society which we live and whether they [society] allow people to express themselves or not.”

Professor Michael Pepper from the Institute for Cellular and Molecular Medicine at UP explains gender and sexual diversity at the Indaba. Photo: Naidine Sibanda

He went on to speak about gender dysphoria, which is a condition where one may feel one’s emotional and psychological identity as male or female to be contrary to one’s biological sex. He said the consequences could be anxiety, depression and suicide attempts.

Head of Department of Private Law at UP Prof. Steve Cornelius said there are concerns over how a number of female athletes have been treated. He quoted Article 5 of the IAAF Constitution, which states that medical intervention may only be carried out if the person involved gives free and informed consent. Both the IAAF’s telling Semenya to take testosterone-reduction treatment and telling her to run with men takes away the choice or consent.

Director and chairman and the Institute of Sport and Exercise Medicine at Stellenbosch University Prof. Wayne Derman said,

“There are no health benefits but only risks in these experimental tests or treatments given to athletes. I am mandated to prevent injury and protect the health of athletes at all costs and this includes their physical and mental well-being.”

Prof. Marc Blockman, the chairperson of the Human Research Ethics Committee at the University of Cape Town, said that so many research ethics had been flawed when obtaining data on Semenya’s case, and, thus, the ruling needs to urgently be overturned, and people should speak out.

Details: Steve Biko Centre for Bioethics (University of Witwatersrand) 011 717 2190

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