SA rallies behind runner in gender storm

South Africans planned to rally in support of champion Caster Semenya—celebrating her win in the 800m at the world championship, and denouncing questions about whether she should be allowed to compete as a woman as racist and sexist.

The International Amateur Athletic Federation has initiated gender tests on Semenya expected to take weeks to complete. While that cloud hovers, Athletics South Africa, track’s national governing body, on Friday invited reporters to welcome the nation’s athletes home from Tuesday’s championships in Berlin.

The youth wing of the African National Congress said its president Julius Malema would lead a welcome rally for “South Africa’s golden girl”, saying on Friday that Semenya “should be celebrated by all South Africans, despite attempts by the IAAF to humiliate her”.

The ANC Women’s League said its leaders would be at airport, too, and that other members would hold protests across South Africa on Tuesday. The women’s league said questions about Semenya’s gender “suggest that women can only perform to a certain level and that those who exceed this level should be men”.

Butana Komphela, chairperson of a parliamentary sports committee, cited both sexism and racism in a statement on Friday.
The South African Press Association quoted him as saying on Friday that his committee would soon lodge a complaint with the UN Commissioner of Human Rights asking for an investigation into the IAAF’s “gross and severe undermining” of Semenya’s rights and privacy.

“Just because she is black and she surpassed her European competitors, there is all this uproar,” Khompela was quoted as saying.

Race is never far from sport in South Africa, where apartheid leaders lavished money and attention on sports embraced by the white minority such as rugby and cricket while black players and fans languished in dilapidated stadiums.

The head of the South African track federation, Leonard Chuene, was among those raising race in the Semenya case.

“It would not be like that if it were some young girl from Europe,” Chuene told the AP by telephone. “If it was a white child, she would be sitting somewhere with a psychologist, but this is an African child.”

The teenager’s stunning and recent improvement in times, along with her muscular build and deep voice, sparked speculation about her gender.

Hours before she won the 800 final on Wednesday, the IAAF confirmed a complex set of gender tests was under way. The IAAF has been criticised in South Africa and elsewhere for going public, particularly given 18-year-old Semenya’s youth and inexperience. - Sapa-AP

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