Did The Body Shaming Campaign Dim Caster Semenya’s Light?

Caster Semenya’s ‘failure’ to reach the finals of the women’s 800m at the IAAF World Championship in Beijing this week has sparked concerns that perhaps the body shaming global campaign she suffered in 2009 was not quite an open and shut case. And how could it? Her entire anatomy; genitals, breasts and even her womb was a trending topic in mainstream international media.

A hermaphrodite for some, a man for others.   Yet years later, Semenya’s inability to return to the top form she once displayed in the very same tournament six years ago is being taken by some as a tell tale sign that the gross violation of her dignity by sports fans and relevant sporting bodies such as the IAAF, may be lingering in silence.  

Soon after winning the 800m race at the International Association of Athletics Federation’s World Championships in 2009, the organisation performed ‘gender testing’ on the South African runner to establish the authenticity of her womanhood and subsequently, whether or not she could compete against ‘other women’ athletes. Following the controversial leak, her identity became a topic of interest.

The governing body’s general  (note ‘governing’, so they have the authority to define the parameters of legitimate gender conformity) secretary in office at the time defended the tests as simply being about “ambiguity, not because we believe she is cheating.” Ambiguity?  

Though fairly, the IAAF has not been alone in victimising Caster for failing to be the women they know and insist on.

We can all only speculate as to why Caster has gone from snatching Gold medals to finishing in the very same race within a period of just six years, but if we were all to put ourselves in her running shoes, one wonders how many of us would be able to keep running when our bodies are constantly being dissecting.


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