Uganda: How ‘Sex Testing’, Operation Affected Annet Negesa’s Running Career

Annet Negesa, a middle-distance runner from Uganda, does not know when she first caught the attention of athletics officials, but the testing began in 2011.

First, in May, there was a routine urine doping test at the African Junior Championships in Botswana. In August, when she reached the semi-finals at the World Championships in South Korea, she had blood tests: “I was wondering, Why me? I didn’t see anyone else giving six bottles of blood like me,” she said.

She never got the test results, and continued to train for the 800 and 1500-meter races, traveling to Europe in early 2012. Then in July 2012, while Negesa was in the final stages of preparing to run at the London Olympics, her manager called her and informed her that she could not attend the Games. “He told me that they took [my] samples and they think they found [in] mine that the level of men’s hormones are high,” she told Human Rights Watch.

“And for that reason they can’t accept me to run.” Negesa was both confused and devastated by the news. Her manager told her that doctors from the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF, now World Athletics) had said she needed to go to France for a medical appointment. Negesa said: “He asked me, ‘You still want to run?’ I told him, ‘Yes.’ He said: ‘Then we need to do this.…They need us to do this and this.'”

Initially, Negesa understood that possible medical steps would involve taking medication. It was when she traveled to France in July 2012 that she learned about the surgery.

A few days later, a national athletics federation official contacted Negesa. The official warned her to be discreet: “She said don’t move around, just stay at home because they were fearing of the news people coming to me and asking me why I didn’t go to the Olympics.” Negesa said she stayed alone, depressed, for months.

Negesa told Human Rights Watch that a team of white male doctors and a woman nurse assessed her at a hospital in Nice. Her European manager accompanied her. She described hospital procedures consistent with a physical exam, an ultrasound, a blood test, and an MRI. Negesa did not receive any documents at the appointment; she was told to visit a doctor in Kampala for surgery.

In November, a local federation official and her local manager took Negesa to the Women’s Hospital International & Fertility Centre in Kampala, where a doctor told her he would perform “a simple surgery—like an injection,” she said. But she woke up from anesthesia with scars on her abdomen, and discharge papers mentioned an orchiectomy (removal of internal testes) and listed a prescription for post-surgical antibiotics. Negesa suffered headaches and achy joints in the years after.

In a January 9, 2013 letter Human Rights Watch reviewed, an official at the hospital where Negesa had surgery said she “now complains of body weakness which we attribute to the withdrawal symptoms of the gonadectomy.”[1] The letter also said they had been “restrained from starting her on estrogen therapy awaiting further discussions” with IAAF’s medical advisor and the surgeon who performed Negesa’s gonadectomy.

After a painful, months-long recovery, Negesa began training again at university. But she never regained her fitness levels, and the university cancelled her scholarship at the end of 2013. Her international manager ceased contacting her in 2016. Today, she lives in Germany, where the government granted her asylum in 2019.

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