After several months of waiting for test results to determine her gender, record-breaking South African runner Caster Semenya has announced that she plans to return to the track -- with or without the go-ahead from the International Association of Athletics Federation.
"I hereby publicly announce my return to athletics competitions," Semenya said in a statement
, calling the highly publicized speculation about her gender an infringement "not only my rights as an athlete but also my fundamental and human rights, including my rights to dignity and privacy."
Semenya's privacy was clearly violated last summer when some of Semenya's competitors complained she looks more masculine than feminine, and IAAF officials responded by demanding a gender test and speculating about the results of those tests in public. But almost as bad has been the IAAF's refusal to move on the case after thrusting it into the spotlight, keeping Semenya off the track -- and away from her profession -- for almost a year, and possibly longer.
Semenya is now 19 years old -- and at the very top of her sport. When she won the gold at the World Athletics Championships in Berlin for the 800-meter dash, she not only beat her competitors by more than two seconds (an incredible margin among runners), her time also set a record for the event. Over the last year, though, she's been benched from competition, while waiting for a repeatedly delayed decision from IAAF. And, in a sport where it's not uncommon for professional athletes to retire before they turn 30, a year is a long time.
Semenya came to the IAAF's attention after her 800-meter record in August, when (after they lost), other runners wanted verification that she was female. The IAAF made a highly and unusually publicized
demand that Semenya, who considers herself female, undergo gender determination tests. The IAAF had indicated then that results would be released by the fall, but were delayed. Now officials say they don't expect results until June,
and Semenya says that her inquiries to the IAAF have been ignored.
She initially planned to wait until the IAAF had ruled, but Semenya now doubts whether a final decision will ever be reached, noting in her statement that "these processes have dragged on for far too long with no reasonable certainty as to their end."
Whether officials will attempt to prevent her from registering to race before they release a decision is uncertain, but by deciding to get back into the competition, Semenya is at least able to force officials' hand. Either way, the answer will be known soon.