A friend once told me about his rotation while a junior doctor, with a consultant who could only be described as blunt. They were discussing a teenage case of gynecomastia – in which males develop noticeable breasts, a somewhat unexpected and surely disturbing event for the young man in question. A quick look at the karyotype had shown the underlying cause was Klinefelter’s syndrome: an extra X chromosome. He was XXY rather than XY.

While considering the case, it was emphasized that explaining this to a teenage boy is something must be done with care. Apart from anything else, the patient’s fertility would be greatly reduced and Klinefelter’s carries an increased risk of several tumours. Having discussed the need for delicacy, the consultant invited the boy and his mother to join him in his office with my friend, cleared his throat, and kicked off as follows.

“Now you know that there are men, and there are women? Well you are somewhere in between.”

Now it’s just a guess, but I imagine the consultant in question might have had a glittering career with the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF), the governing body of world athletics, which has in the last month or so done its utmost to torment the young South African middle distance runner Caster Semenya.

To recap, very briefly, in case you have just arrived from a parallel dimension in which this has not happened, Semenya has emerged with stunning swiftness (literally) as a new force in women’s middle distance running. Only 18, she won gold in the 800m at the 12th World Championships in Berlin without looking as if she was really trying. But already there were whispers that Semenya had an unfair advantage. At first this was simply due to her, to be fair, strikingly masculine appearance. Then the day before the 800m final, it was announced that she was to be investigated by the IAAF to determine her gender. I should not need to comment on how bizarre and cruel this is, not least because this is not a question of deliberate doping. Were Semenya suspected of cheating through taking banned substances, she would be subjected to less humiliating scrutiny than she has through an accusation for which, even if upheld, she bears no blame for whatsoever.

And to compound this, leaked stories are prejudging the results of the examination. It must be said that it does seem that Semenya has abnormally high levels of testosterone for a woman (though still low for a man) and will probably be barred from further competition as a result.

It would take a heart of stone, or failing that, an IAAF official to not be moved by this. Questions of gender go to the core of our identity and whatever the results of the investigation Semenya will certainly be scarred by the experience. Whatever teasing she endured as a child through her appearance could be put aside as she discovered her gift for running. Now it seems that gift is worthless.

Having said that, her case makes me wonder about sport in general. What is it intended to celebrate? The person who has worked the hardest to develop themselves, or the most naturally gifted? Semenya is undeniably naturally gifted, and yet to judge her by the standards of others without those gifts can seem unfair on them. On the other hand, is it any more so than expecting human beings without Usain Bolt’s combination of physique and fast twitch muscle fibres to compete with him?

I wonder if, at some point in the future, our understanding of sports physiology will be such that following genomic analysis, we can crudely group humans into classes in terms of their athletic potential, and then allow them to compete against each other. Boxing is a sport in which it has already been recognized that competition can be maintained only by weight classes. Admittedly, the athletic class I would personally fall into would not be one which anyone would pay to see, but then it would have been something of a relief to be able to recognize the limits of my aspirations. Maybe this sounds too much like GATTACA, but it would at least offer a world in which people like Caster Semanya would be recognized for their gifts, rather than penalized for them.