August 25th, 2009
04:49 PM ET

Crowds throng as Semenya returns home

The crowd cheers wildly as athlete Caster Semenya strides through the arrivals hall at O.R. Tambo Airport in Johannesburg.

Despite the police's best efforts, a mass of  eager South Africans swirl around her and her escort, trying to touch the teenager or even just get a snap of her arrival on their mobile phones.

Semenya received a rapturous reception on her return to South Africa following the controversy surrounding her gender.
Semenya received a rapturous reception on her return to South Africa following the controversy surrounding her gender.

The cheering and excited dancing continue outside as Semenya and her fellow-athletes board their bus.

A few bemused tourists wheel their luggage carts gingerly through the jubilant throng looking uncertainly from side to side.

The bus circles the airport and drops  Semenya and her team-mates onto a stage erected on a parking lot at the side of the airport.

The crowd has reassembled in front of the stage and they cheer wildly as the politicians, who have come to greet her, make speeches and a popular South African hit song blares out through the chill spring air.

Semenya herself says nothing, but she appears composed despite the chaos surrounding her.

She smiles gently at the crowd. For a rural 18-year-old with little previous exposure to the limelight, she is clearly bearing up well.

Her enthusiastic welcome is a sign of just how the controversy surrounding her gold medal win in Berlin has enraged most South Africans.

The story of this shy, somewhat uncertain young athlete is, at its core, a story about identity.

Firstly, of course, the fact that her gender has been called into question raises uncomfortable, but universal, questions about the nature of gender and who has the right to define that identity.

It raises crucial issues, too, about the politics of sport and the scientific ethics involved in the testing of athletes.

But, crucially, Caster’s rapturous welcome home says something about what it means to be a black South African in post-apartheid South Africa.

Many in the West might find it difficult to comprehend the depth of the rage and the perceived insult at her gender being questioned.

To black South Africans, the testing is a bitter reminder of past European colonial arrogance when Africans were regarded as less than fully human, their bodies objects of scientific curiosity to be displayed in museums to satisfy the novelty-seeking instincts of crowds in Europe.

Many feel that the west cannot accept Semanya's win because they cannot come to terms with the notion of Africans achieving excellence.

This rage is difficult to counter. Who can here say exactly where the politics of sport and the politics of race and of gender begin and end?

These debates will rage for months, and their after-effects linger for years to come. But to understand the deep roots of black South African outrage at their heroine being subjected to this testing one should travel to the far north of the country, to the rural heartland of Limpopo Province where she grew up.

On the edge of Fairlea village is a dusty football pitch where Semanya began to first play and then to run. The field is hard and uneven, covered in stones, at the edges broken glass and rusty cans litter the dry grass. A herd of goats wanders across the bare earth grazing for whatever sustenance they can find.

The poverty of this African field is a long way from the immaculate training grounds of Europe and the west.

It is astonishing that an athlete of  Semenya’s achievements could have begun her career here, so far behind her competitors, and have risen so high to have beaten them on their own tracks.

Semenya’s victory means something much more than winning a gold medal, it is a triumph of hope, a feat that celebrates being African and to have achieved struggling against such hardships. Africa will not easily let the west forget that.

Posted by
Filed under:  Athletics
soundoff (13 Responses)
  1. Allison Brown

    I have been watching the Olympics since I was a child and, to think that the runners as well as the officials would begin to question this younster gender. All because of how bad she beat women that have been training for a life to reach the big stage....only to be upstaged by a teenager. Get over it!
    Did anyone say anything about the white girls from Germany & Poland looking like serious male body builders....yell no, so what's up now?
    The difference is she wins, they lose.
    Just think what she's going to do during the up coming Olympics?

    August 25, 2009 at 9:38 pm | Reply
  2. Jason

    This has NOTHING to do with the fact that she is black, or from South Africa. It has to do with the simple fact that she could have a distinct advantage over other competitors, and the possibility that this was known all along.

    August 25, 2009 at 10:13 pm | Reply
  3. masauso chiumya

    i love your blog. well written. It's an insult to be testing for gender when she won a gold medal......where have been all things years when she has not won. I guess they forget that they had accepted her as a woman then.. We are tired of africa being labelled as a dark continent and nothing excellent can come out of it.
    stop the racism!!!

    August 25, 2009 at 10:33 pm | Reply
  4. JC

    This article is SO biased!! The testing isn't about whether or not she should be allowed to run or the fact that she had a rough start in life, but it's about FAIRNESS TO ALL ATHLETES!! There isn't just ONE athlete out there, there are many. Many different stories, many different struggles, many different backgrounds. If he/she is found to be male, whether by birth or alteration, it's not fair to the female athletes who aren't as strong or as fast as males. That's the main focus here– FAIRNESS! The author needs to get a grip on reality and see all the athletes, not just one. Please!!

    August 25, 2009 at 11:37 pm | Reply
  5. Grant Weber

    Caster Semenya congratulations on your achievment at the IAAF world championships, and may your rise to stardom be rubbed in the faces of the IAAF.

    August 26, 2009 at 5:12 am | Reply
  6. blessing

    all this publicity just proves that there are some serious sore losers out there!! half the athletes at these games look like men, but again because this little girl who is not so little happens to beat not only the other athlets but she breaks a record whilst she's at it then...suddenly she cannot be female! shame guys this is so juvenile

    August 26, 2009 at 9:47 am | Reply
  7. berry

    What fairness, do you think it would be fair to test Bolt to see if his testerone levels are higher than those of a normal male.
    Would it be fair to disqulify Australian Athletes and say they have an unfair advantage, because they train in world best train facilities.

    I dont want to do injustice to other female athlets that appear more masculine that Caster.

    Think about this, Caster is a girl,
    She loves athletics and has the talent and ability.
    Who must she compete??????????

    Get your heads right, dont mess world sports, lets enjoy the talents that God has given to athletes of all decents.
    Males against males
    Females against femails

    Go Caster, do it again!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    August 26, 2009 at 10:39 am | Reply
  8. patros mAKATE

    u go girl no unnessesary gender test to b done coz u r a girl ayoba

    August 26, 2009 at 11:43 am | Reply
  9. Maranatha

    It,s unfortunate that the same people who sing highest against racism are the same people with the highest practise.go check out premier legue and world football at large,we are waiting for this nonsense come 2010.though one thing i can bet my last coin on is that RACISM WILL NEVER DIE EVEN IN AFRICA it will keep changing it,s guises.

    August 27, 2009 at 9:18 am | Reply
  10. Afam kenneth Johnson

    Is better to let her be free so she can do this what she like doing (.runing.)coming with Gender test will not be right thing now

    August 28, 2009 at 7:24 am | Reply
  11. Henry Jones

    If she has nothing to hide then why not let the test proceed? If she is found to be female which I believe is so then the IAAF will have egg on their face.

    August 28, 2009 at 8:33 am | Reply
  12. Sam

    Testing to see if she has an unfair advantage? Ofcourse she does, and its her talent. This world is not fair, some people are just better than others, okay deal with it IAAF!!

    NOW this also shows how disorderly IAAF is because it wants to test her after already allowing her to compete. It is not legally right and whats more its traumatising and ashaming. She should sew IAAF!!

    For fairness all competitors should be tested BEFORE a race.
    There are men who also look like women, and there are women who look like men. These scientists should know better.

    IAAF is depicting itself in a very unprofessional and incompetent way for a big corporation. SHAME SHAME....GO AFRICA!! look who looks dumb now

    September 2, 2009 at 1:48 am | Reply
  13. Dr. Cajetan Coelho

    Congratulations to South African athlete Caster Semenya.

    October 2, 2009 at 6:45 am | Reply

Post a comment


CNN welcomes a lively and courteous discussion as long as you follow the Rules of Conduct set forth in our Terms of Service. Comments are not pre-screened before they post. You agree that anything you post may be used, along with your name and profile picture, in accordance with our Privacy Policy and the license you have granted pursuant to our Terms of Service.