Dignity and privacy is also an African Virtue… Semenya was offered none

Submitted by Francis Ngwa-Niba on 12 September 2009 - 4:15pm

I saw this coming. Since the International Amateur Athletics Federation (IAAF) inavertedly revealed that they were carrying out a gender verification test on 18-year-old winning athlete Caster Semenya, they committed the mistake that could have effectively ruined the life and athletic career of a young promising girl from rural South Africa.

As expected, the world had been waiting for the results of the tests and global interest in the case guaranteed one thing; this could not be kept private again.

In the western world, governments will do anything to protect people's privacy and the UK and most countries have vibrant data protection laws. Only the fear of punishment from courts stops the voracious search and publication of information that will sell newspapers and magazines in the present economic downturn.

The IAAF is strenuously denying news reports from Australia and other western media that the tests results show Semenya is bi-gender (whatever that means). The reports claim the young girl does not have a womb, has no ovaries and has male and female sex organs.

The IAAF say they never revealed the results and that a panel of experts will sit and give them their views before they meet and talk to the young girl.

A direct result of all this brouhaha is that Semenya has now pulled out of a cross country marathon that she was scheduled to take part in today in South Africa. This may just be the end of her athletic career thanks to the ineptitudes of the IAAF.

South African sports Minister Reverend Makhenkesi Stofile has even threatened a "third world war" if the controversy over her gender stops Semenya from ever competing again. His outburst is a measure of the outrage that the whole controversy has provoked in South Africa.

Though we blame the IAAF for handling this crisis like infantile schoolboys, the South African athletics federation is ultimately responsible for the mess in which they now find themselves and the deeply personal and troubling situation that Semenya is now involved in. The whole world now knows more about her than is humanely acceptable.

Semenya and the South African athletics federation did not deliberately set out to deceive anybody but that is not the point now. Anybody who has eyes and ears would have realized from the start there was something different about Semenya. She looked and sounded more masculine than feminine.

All this would not have happened if the South African athletics federation had carried out its duty of care by carrying out the tests that the IAAF later commissioned.

Because they did not, the IAAF did that following vicious whispers from the media and other competitors when Semenya started off her Berlin races "flying" leaving her rivals trailing behind her.

With South Africa threatening war, the IAAF thrown into a crisis of international proportions, the world media meddling in her personal life and millions of people wondering how this happened, we should not forget that this is a story about an 18-year-old girl who still has her whole life in front of her.

Her family still insists she is a woman but because she is so good, few female athletes will now want Semenya for a rival on the tracks.

Lawyers will soon get involved and Caster Semenya richly deserves to be compensated if this does kill her career. The South African athletics federation and the IAAF owe this young girl a lot for messing her up so badly.

She needs to be protected and that exactly is what data protection laws in western countries are for but is anybody listening? Does anybody care about this young woman? We all should.

The author can be contacted at  francisngwa@yahoo.com