The Debate over Caster Semenya

MDIA2002 Media Analysis Article 2

Kostas, Carolena z5061221 F10A


The Debate over Caster Semenya


Olympians are known to be celebrated by their nation and by their fans, however, issues often arise over the fairness of competition, be it doping or other means of cheating. This in particular has affected South African 800m Athlete, Caster Semenya who has hyperandrogenism, (a medical condition characterised by excessive levels of androgens, male sex hormones such as testosterone, in the body and the associated effects of the elevated androgen levels) and thus a global debate has occurred over how to treat hyperandrogenic athletes.


With an influx of current media representations surrounding hyperandrogenic athletes competing in the Rio 2016 Olympics, Caster Semenya is in a position of intense scrutiny following the debate whether it is fair to allow her to compete or to bar her. “South African Athlete Caster Semenya reportedly under armed guard at Rio Olympics following safety fears” by Benedict Brook for and “Caster Semenya 800m Rio Olympics: Most sensitive race of Games as South African star runs” by Tony Harper for FoxSports, advance similar viewpoints and offer insight into the different perspectives and world views held by authority, athletes and sports fans alike regarding this ethical issue. The personal viewpoints are not advanced by each author, rather the reader’s need to conclude for themselves, after careful consideration of the evidence put forward through use of quotes from figures with relevance to athletics and the sporting world.


A myriad of opinions is portrayed through news stories and there is no conclusion yet on how to treat Semenya’s case in regards to her competing as a woman who is hyperandrogenic. Semenya’s athletic career has been put at stake since the IAAF launched an inquiry into her gender in 2009 after she won an international title at age 18. Semenya has been characterised as an athlete with extraordinary talent but the question remains, is she too fast for a woman? The general attitude represented by authority and sporting figures is that at the heart of the ethical debate, she has grown up and identifies as a women however further research needs to be made to determine if she has an unfair advantage over athletes who do not have her condition. Thus the sensitive issue of her competing at the Rio Olympics continues.


Author Benedict Brook from provides a balance of quotes for those in favour of Caster Semenya competing and those who believe she has an unfair advantage, this positions the audience to better understand each side of the argument before making their own conclusions. Brook’s use of emotive language portrays the issue of the sensitivity of her competing, as displayed in the quote; “Fearful of disquiet from the fans of rival runners spilling over into physical violence they have beefed up Semenya’s security.” Whereby he insinuates that the events currently unfolding in Rio are very controversial. After introducing the current situation in Rio surrounding Semenya, Brook then appeals to authority and ethical social norms, by recounting facts that arose about Semenya’s gender. “A leaked medical report said the athlete has internal testes a condition called hyperandrogenism which naturally increases levels of testosterone. This, in turn, can aid in the building of muscle — essential for an elite athlete.” Through an appeal of emotive language coupled with facts, Brook’s argumentative support justifies the claim that Semenya may have an unfair advantage competing against other women which highlights the generalized attitude people hold when they first hear about Semenya. Generally, the media portrays hyperandrogenism in female athletes in a negative and unfair light and thus Brook argues against these presumed representations which can have a profound influence on the general sporting readership’s opinions of Semenya competing at the Rio Olympics. In this instance, Brook has characterized Semenya as a muscular athlete with uncertainty into her gender, however still implicitly evaluating the case that surrounds her in a justified manner.


In order to present a balanced argument to ensure his readers can come to an educated conclusion, Brook includes quotes to express the opinion of Semenya’s rivals and her supporters, and in this way does not not advance his own opinion on his readers. Drawing firstly upon the opinion of competitors; “Rivals say they would be labelled a drug cheat if they topped up their testosterone to the levels of Semenya and she has an unfair advantage,” he emphasizes the sensitivity of the debate through emotive language. In contrast, Brook immediately goes on to provide the alternate viewpoint; “But supporters say whatever condition she may have, she is still a woman and should be able to compete as one. They say the furore is more because she doesn’t fit the stereotype of what a female athlete should look like.” By providing this balance of arguments, Brook coaxes his audience to make their own opinions by appealing to a comparison, to influence how his audience is informed. Although the argument over whether it is fair to let Semenya compete is a slippery slope, Brook’s strategy is to appeal to different opinions to enable his readers to make their own conclusions and viewpoints. Authors often employ this technique throughout a multitude of media representations in order to not impose their own opinion on their readers. Brook deals with for and against arguments in a manner that suggests his readers have significant understanding of the controversy and that although Semenya may face potential harm, the benefit to society is that they can conclude in an informed manner, whilst respecting the rights of an individual. Although the media portrayal of Caster Semenya is varied and with a certain degree of indecision, as no conclusion has yet to be made by authority, they still afford the debate to be interpreted by their own audiences.


Furthermore, Brook again withholds imposing his own opinion on his readers by including quotes from athletes and authority to support the comparative argument he is attempting to portray. Sports fans have the capacity to respect the opinion of other Olympian’s, and thus Brook appeals to his audience in the quote, “In July, British Olympian Paula Radcliffe told the BBC: “When we talk about it in terms of fully expecting no other result than Caster Semenya to win that 800m, then it’s no longer sport. It’s not just Caster’s rights but all the women with elevated testosterone that need to be balanced with those that don’t.” Brook then goes on to support his argument that a unanimous decision across authority and sporting figures is yet to be made by appealing to facts in, “But a 2016 paper by the American Medical Association poured cold water on the suggestion testosterone would make enough of a difference on its own to support exclude those athletes. “Many factors, favourable genetics, height, muscle type… contribute to competitive success in sport.” This style is employed by authors in order to allow their readers to come to their own conclusions and to ensure their articles are free from their own bias. Through using an evaluative claim, Brook appeals to ethical and social norms as the readers are able to form their own understanding of the issue and then pass their own judgment. An appeal to authority and popular opinion, allows Brook to share the same underlying world view as his readers and supports the claim that a decision has not yet been made by authorities whether it is fair to continue to let Semenya run. As Semenya’s current position has been evaluated by athletes and authority, the readers can understand that Brook has implicitly demonstrated the representational effects of a controversy in sport that has spanned over many years.


Author Tony Harper from FoxSports provides more perspective into the debate over whether it is fair to let Caster Semenya run as a hyperandrogenic athlete. Harper’s article appears to be firstly centered around the fact that Semenya has a right to run and is in favour of her. This is exhibited in the large amount of quotes firstly in favour of Semenya before presenting the other side of the argument. This positions the audience to firstly take on the stance that Semenya is within her rights to run as she is, before allowing them to comprehend whether this ethical debate should result in her being barred from competition. Again the author offers alternate viewpoints to enable the audience to be educated in either side of the debate before coming to their own conclusions. Harper firstly appeals to emotion through an almost sarcastic tone in, “Semenya, the so called intersex athlete, has divided the sport’s fans between those who feel her biological make-up is merely the luck of the draw and those who feel her participation is unfair on her rivals,” by which the words “so called” and “those who feel” deliberately evoke an emotive response in the reader.

Furthermore, the word choice of ’those who feel’ is a direct appeal to the audiences’ emotion as they are subsequently called upon to reflect on their own emotions on the matter. Harper appeals to popular opinion through the inclusion of an athlete’s viewpoint; “It’s a hard situation … This goes beyond sport to the human being,” John Steffensen, an Australian Olympian born in South Africa, told Fox Sports Australia.” As the issue about Semenya translates into the sporting world, as well as being an ethical and moral debate, readers can respect John Steffensen’s opinion as a fellow athlete who has also competed at the Olympic Games. Authors who write about controversy in sport often provide a recommendation claim to appeal to their audience. In this instance, Harper has justified his principle claim that Semenya’s participation is a difficult argument to make conclusions on which creates a relationship between the reader and author. Although Harper does not mount his own argument into his article, he employs quotes that evaluate Semenya in order position his audience to respect the different opinions presented. Through inclusion of quotes from the public consensus against that of a respected athlete, Harper promotes the generalized view that after careful consideration of facts and ethics, one is able to form their own opinion of Caster Semenya.


Authors employ rhetorical questions to intentionally allow the readers to question their own viewpoints as well as the matter at hand that they are reading. Harper additionally appeals to consequence and emotion through the use of rhetorical question in, “This so clear cut and so decisive, she can win the Olympic Games and not run really well,” Bideau told the Herald Sun. “It’s ridiculous but that’s the rules, what can you do about it? It’s not her fault, it’s just unfortunate.” This quote is from Nic Bideau, a coach of Australia’s Rio track team and thus the readers are able to respect the opinion of a figure of importance in the sporting world. Rhetorical question is a device that directly appeals to the audience’s own emotions and displays that although the article endeavors to be fair by providing both sides of the argument, it plays on the readers’ emotions and piques their interest. By including quotes from authority, Harper is able to appeal to his readers and further their understanding of the legal matter on Semenya; “The IAAF are researching into this area to see if there are rules that will help women’s sport to remain fair, but hugely complicated and difficult subject, as you all know,” said Dr Richard Budgett.” By including quotes from figures of authority, including scientists and people responsible in research areas, authors are able to invoke attitudinal assessment by positioning the audience to believe facts coming from authority with relation to this ethical debate. Although as Harper writes for FoxSports and the articles from this media outlet are often very emotive and play on the readers’ feelings, he attempts to provide a balanced argument by offering facts and quotes from authoritative figures. Authors will employ an appeal to facts and authority, especially in the instance of an emotive piece, to further the belief of their readership and to sway them to the underlying world views that they or the publication hold. Harper has positioned his audience in a way that they are able to respect both stances on the Semenya debate as opinions from athletes and coaches with a stake in the issue are explicitly demonstrated, as well as the authority presenting their stance on the issue with careful consideration.


Through a journalistic analysis of two contrasting articles that delve into the controversy of Caster Semenya, it is apparent that although there is no general consensus or conclusion whether she should be allowed to compete, the sporting bodies have not been able to make a reasoned decision yet regarding hyperandrogenic women and thus journalists should tread lightly on this sensitive issue. The authors have also positioned their readers to enable an attitudinal assessment of the situation, which in turn results in the public feeling that they should treat the subject with sensitivity. Each article reaches the conclusion that how to treat Semenya is still up in the air, however the readers are invited to make their own assessment on the matter after being presented quotes and facts from both sides of the argument. Both authors position their audience to understand how this is an ethical debate over fairness of sport and the rights of an individual. Through the many appeals that the authors make to their readers, the authors interpret their audience as sports fans with a capacity for empathy and understanding over the controversy that surrounds Caster Semenya. Thus the conclusions that the audience are able to make are reliant upon personal opinion and how each article has affected the readers’ emotions and overall assessment of Semenya. As the readers are encouraged to come to an educated and informed opinion by the end of each article, this provides engagement as well as the influence each author has. Through a comparison of the linguistic devices of appeals to emotion, comparison, authority and facts, it becomes apparent that each text supports that there are varying opinions surrounding Semenya and her competing at the Rio Olympics. Although there is no general consensus held by both authority and sporting fans alike as to how to treat the ethical debate surrounding Semenya, the readers are invited to make their own opinions on the matter. Brook’s and Harper’s articles are both argumentative in their own right and both attempt to provide a balanced argument for their readers, despite the nuanced play on emotions that occurs. As her involvement in the games is imminent and her progression into the final of the women’s 800m remains, the debate will continue likely into the next Olympics in four years’ time. Being for or against Semenya is a real ethical debate that goes beyond the sporting world as it plays into the world view that everyone should be treated equally.





Brook, B (2016) ‘South African athlete Caster Semenya reportedly under armed guard at Rio Olympics following safety fears’,


Harper, T (2016) ‘Caster Semenya 800m Rio Olympics: Most sensitive race of Games as South African star runs’ FoxSports Australia









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