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Is he or isn't she?

Optimize Blog - August 31, 2009 - 0 comments

The controversy over Caster Semenya’s gender still rumbles on despite her hero’s reception on her return to South Africa. Now, whilst tests show that she possesses more testosterone than a bricklayer’s labourer, I can’t help feeling that the whole sorry scenario could have been handled a little more sensitively than it was.
Clearly improving your personal best time by seven seconds and then leaving a defending champion 2.45 seconds in your wake is going to raise some eyebrows – we can discount the purchase of new shoes as making that sort of difference – but sexual identity is a very complicated issue.
Interestingly this was not about performance enhancing drugs, illegal blood transfusions or other doping type issues. This was a much more fundamental issue i.e. is she really a he? On top of that, why did the IAAF allow the rumours and pub chat to get to the point where they publicly ask for a gender test just before the event? Normally in ‘cheat’ type accusations no one hears much until both A and B samples have been tested but in this case the normal rules don’t appear to have been applied.
The result of course is that this young 18 year old has been stripped of her dignity and the timing of the IAAF’s announcement was humiliating and embarrassing for the young athlete. She now has to severely limit her personal appearances and no doubt has that sense of being viewed as a circus freak.
Any lessons for us here? Well, I think that treating others with dignity regardless of the situation or scenario should be one of the foundations of how we manage and interact with others. Avoid becoming part of the rumour mill or gossip crew and always deal with facts. Stripping someone of their dignity or humiliating them can happen if we don’t stay in control of how we deal with others – this could be dealing with disciplinary issues or even something as basic as knocking an idea in a team meeting.
Always try and understand how your actions will be perceived by others and put yourself in their shoes. Try and do this before opening your mouth….something the IAAF failed to do with such a disappointing outcome.

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