What Would Sponsoring Caster Semenya Mean?

November 1, 2010  |  

by Anthony Jerrod

It is safe to state that racial and gender prejudice is distasteful, malevolent and abhorrent.  One person that continually seems to experience such discrimination and aversion is world class runner Caster Semenya.  After becoming the first black South African woman to win gold in the 800 meters at the world championship in 2009, questions were raised by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAFF) about Semenya’s gender.  This investigation was implemented, although the IAFF had not established clear and concise requirements for when a woman was considered ineligible to compete as a woman.

It was relatively clear that the IAFF had “violated” Semenya’s privacy and human rights, which many South African leaders and activists from around the world boldly expressed.   On July 6, 2010, the IAFF finally cleared Semenya to return to completion, while holding her test results as confidential.  After transcending months of unnecessary investigation and struggle, Semenya has returned to the news cycle because she has recently experienced difficulty in acquiring sponsorships due to the negative and unwarranted publicity associated with the gender controversy.

In congruence with statements made from her manager, it has become a known fact that Semenya receives a salary from the South African government and gets training clothes from a sports apparel company.  So, many cynics and commentators have posed the question, “Why is a sponsorship necessary?”  Similar to many athletes, corporate sponsorships can potentially help purchase training equipment, information technology equipment, travel costs, accommodation expenses, etc.  And, Semenya could possibly use such assistance in one or more of the abovementioned areas.

Obviously, it’s been for hard to Semenya to get sponsors because of the controversy surrounding her gender. Since test results were never released, there’s still rumors out there that she may be an intersexual – that is, a person born with a reproductive or sexual anatomy that doesn’t seem to fit the typical definitions of female or male.

Semenya reportedly has no womb or ovaries and has extremely high testosterone levels due to androgen insensitivity syndrome.  If this is true, is this some subtle form of medical cheating?  Absolutely not!  In my professional opinion, if Semenya has stated that she is a woman, then she should compete as one, exclusive of any physiological abnormalities.    And, if the IAFF has cleared her to compete, then the controversy that they initially started should be over and potential sponsorships should not be a problem.

From a branding perspective, should companies see the sponsorship of Semenya as being too shaky?  Resoundingly no!  Actually, corporate sponsors should view the potential sponsorship of Semenya as an opportunity to support human rights and to expand their brand globally.   If the IAFF had given Semenya a provisional clearance or if the International Olympic Committee had not passed a resolution to discontinue the process of gender verification, then a potential sponsorship would certainly be risky.   But these particular conditions do not exist.

What would the sponsorship of Caster Semenya say about a company?  It would affirm that an organization was just, fair and compassionate relative to athletes who may have genetic idiosyncrasies.  It would also bespeak of the organization’s willingness to put their brand on the line and to stand up for what is right.  The Journal of the American Medical Association has reported the fact that many medical professionals, endocrinologists and geneticists have criticized gender verification testing as “humiliating, socially insensitive and potentially inaccurate.”

Hopefully, Caster Semenya will be given the opportunity to live up to reputation of being South Africa’s “Golden Girl.”  Discriminatory and isolationist practices toward intersexual and gender variant individuals are clearly wrong.

Anthony Jerrod is a speaker, public policy expert and author of Carnal Striving Spiritual.

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