There was a false start to the new year for Caster Semenya yesterday. It began with Michael Seme, coach of the athlete who won the women's 800m title at the World Championships in Berlin last summer, proclaiming, "She's going to run in international events," and speaking of his teenage charge challenging for World Junior Championship, African Championship and Commonwealth Games gold medals in the year that lies ahead.
His words gave the impression in South Africa that Semenya's delicate situation had finally been resolved by the sport's governing body, the International Association of Athletics Federations. That, however, is definitively not the case. The athlete from the Limpopo region remains in a state of limbo.
The IAAF has yet to reach a decision on Semenya's future after conducting gender tests on the South African runner, who turned 19 last week. The governing body remains in talks with Semenya and her lawyers, Dewey and LeBoeuf. "All the parties are still in negotiations," Angelo Kakolyris, a spokesman for the law firm, said. "We're optimistic that there's going to be a positive resolution for all parties concerned."
Later in the day, coach Seme backed down from his earlier comments, saying: "Just listen to the lawyers."
"We are still in the same position as before – no official IAAF comment until we have finished the inquiry – and I can't tell you how long the inquiry will take either," said an IAAF spokesman, Nick Davies.
Semenya has never been under any formal suspension. She is free to compete as a woman, pending the IAAF's ruling.
It is unlikely that Semenya would be allowed to take part in an international event until her case had been resolved, although she has been back in training for the past two months and is planning to compete in the upcoming domestic outdoor track season in South Africa. According to Seme, the opening race on her schedule is the first in the series of Yellow Pages meetings in Port Elizabeth on 18 February. "She will run in at least three Yellow Pages races this year," he said.
Semenya's future, however, remains far from clear. The IAAF has yet to comment on claims made in the Australian press in September that tests had found the athlete to be a hermaphrodite, with both female and male characteristics. If that were the case, she might be required to undergo gender realignment surgery before being allowed to compete as a woman.