South Africa 800m runner Caster Semenya has been tipped to win her race at the Rio Olympics but the question in the lips of many is if she should be allowed to compete with women.
If you don’t know, the distance runner has more features of a man than of a woman; she has no ovaries and has as much testosterone as most men.
There are those who say she should not be allowed to compete in the Olympics women’s 800m, which she is almost certain to win. No doubt they would also like to see her stripped of her former victories — gold and silver at the 2009 and 2011 World Championships and silver at the London 2012 Olympics.
It is not accusations of doping that dog the South African, though it does come down to chemistry. The question is whether she is, in fact, a biological woman.
Semenya, 25, has testosterone levels three times the normal level found in women and approaching those of a man. Furthermore, she has no womb or ovaries, and instead, owing to a chromosomal abnormality, internal testes.
As a result, her appearance is startlingly masculine: her face and physique bring to mind the likes of those East German female hammer throwers of the Sixties and Seventies, whose young bodies were irredeemably masculated by cruel state-sponsored doping programmes.
Though such figures were often the subject of jocularity here in the West, these women’s lives were ruined and often shortened. And just as we should tread carefully when discussing such cases, we should also treat that of Caster Semenya with sensitivity.
It is clearly not her fault she has the condition hyperandrogenism, which causes her body to produce and absorb an excessive amount of male hormones. Though Semenya, as is her right, identifies herself in societal terms as a woman, many in the world of medicine would describe her as intersex or a hermaphrodite.
So with a physique more typically masculine than feminine, is it fair to allow Semenya to compete as a woman? This awkward question must be asked for her presence in the women’s competition presents ethical dilemmas.
One might feel that inclusivity — that she be allowed to compete — is the only rightful expression of the Olympic spirit.
But the reality is that while Semenya, with her excessive levels of testosterone, is allowed on to the track, any rival who raised her levels of the hormone through doping to match the South African’s would be banned.
Then there is the problem as to how, exactly, men and women should be divided for their separate sporting events when not everyone falls tidily into those two categories.
In a society where there are increasing calls for sex and gender to be viewed as being on a spectrum rather than falling into two camps, it is no wonder the world of sport, with its neat division of athletes for male and female events, struggles to navigate such complexities.
If Semenya were not allowed to compete in the women’s events, she would be discriminated against for a condition that is not her fault. But if she does compete, the fear is that it opens the doors for scores of intersex athletes to dominate female sport.