South African govt rally behind Semenya on IAAF's new gender rules

Friday February 15 2019

rio olympics, caster semenya

South Africa's Caster Semenya celebrates winning the Women's 800m Final during the athletics event at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at the Olympic Stadium in Rio de Janeiro on August 20, 2016. FILE PHOTO | AFP 

AFP
By AFP
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The South African government on Friday threw its weight behind Olympic 800 metres champion Caster Semenya ahead of next week's landmark hearing on proposed rules that aim to restrict testosterone levels in female athletes.

World track and field's governing body IAAF has proposed rules that would force so-called "hyperandrogenic" athletes or those with "differences of sexual development" (DSD) to medically lower their testosterone levels below a prescribed amount.

But Semenya, 800m Olympic champion in London and Rio and a three-time world champion, is challenging the legality of the rules in a case which will be heard at the Court of Arbitration (CAS) in Lausanne from Monday.

Led by South Africa's Sports Minister Tokozile Xasa, the government said the rules were "discriminatory" as it launched a campaign in support of hyperandrogenic athletes.

"These regulations appear to be specifically targeting Caster Semenya," the minister told a news conference.

"It's a subtle racial incident that we are observing".

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"What's at stake here is far more than the right to participate in a sport. Women's bodies, their wellbeing, their ability to earn a livelihood, their very identity, their privacy and sense of safety and belonging in the world, are being questioned.

"This is a gross violation of internationally accepted standards of human rights law."

Campaign

The government launched a campaign dubbed #NaturallySuperior in a bid to drum up international support, in a drive the country's sports ministry director Mokoditloa Meomi said was to fight the "unfair" IAAF regulations.

"She is being targeted because she is a woman, had she been a man we doubt that that would be the case," said Meomi.

"In Caster we have a human face and a human victim."

"The world once declared apartheid as a crime against human rights. We once more call people of the world to stand with us as we fight what we believe is a gross violation of human rights," said Xasa.

She called on individuals and organisations "intolerant of discrimination" to add their voices to a movement "that condemns these discriminatory IAAF regulations which in their nature seek to unfairly exclude other sections of society from competing in sport," she said.

The IAAF regulations, she said, could potentially deprive the world from seeing and experiencing the "natural superiority of future athletes" from Africa.

The regulations were due to have been instituted in November 2018 but have been put on ice pending next week's hearings.

On Thursday, Semenya, 28, said she was "unquestionably a woman".

In a statement, her lawyers said she was "a heroine and an inspiration to many around the world. She asks that she be respected and treated as any other athlete."

"Her genetic gift should be celebrated, not discriminated against."

As well as Semenya, the silver and bronze medallists in the 800m at the Rio Olympics, Francine Niyonsaba of Burundi and Kenya's Margaret Wambui, have also faced questions about their testosterone levels.

The sports minister said the proposed had the potential to hinder any "little girl growing up in an African village with dreams of becoming a top sportswoman."

Athletics South Africa reaffirmed its "unqualified support" for Semenya and other athletes who may be affected by the IAAF decision.

Semenya has received support from other sports. Cricket South Africa said it stood behind the "national icon" and denounced the IAAF regulations as "an act of discrimination against women in sport.

"We state categorically and emphatically that women like Caster, who is born with intersex variations, should enjoy the same rights to dignity as all women," CSA chief executive Thabang Moroe said.

"This attempt at systematically ostracising potential and talent should be condemned in the strongest terms. Together, let's hit gender discrimination for six!" said Moroe.

Semenya's best 800m time of 1min 54.25sec puts her fourth on the all-time list. That time is a second slower than the world record of 1:53.28 set in 1983 by Jarmila Kratochvilova, which is now widely discredited because of Soviet-era doping.

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