Caster was cleared by SA tests
World champion Caster Semenya has been tested in South Africa and found to have higher-than-usual testosterone levels, but she is well within the range that allows her to participate in women’s races.
A week after the controversy broke, fingers are starting to point to the blunders and bad management of Athletics South Africa (ASA), which has been aware of the questions raised about her eligibility to compete in women’s athletics since she started to shine in junior competitions. But the local sports body has done nothing to stem the fallout.
Two sources within ASA told the Mail & Guardian this week that the body had ‘made sure” she was eligible to compete, not by a process of gender verification but by a standard urine test taken by all competing athletes.
‘She was tested three years ago when she started competing and it was found that she is a woman.
She may have rather high levels of male hormones, but she is definitely a woman,” a source in ASA said.
Another source confirmed that she has been tested and found to be a woman, saying that the issue of whether or not an athlete is tested has to be kept confidential.
‘Of course it is controversial, but results are made known only if there is a problem,” said the source, who is a key manager of the elite athletics squad.
The source defined a ‘problem” as the results affecting an athlete’s eligibility to compete as a woman, not public pressure.
According to Chris Hattingh, the chairperson of ASA’s anti-doping committee, a urine sample taken for a doping test is often used to test the ratio between testosterone and epi-testosterone.
Epi-testosterone is a natural steroid produced by the body, but it can be used to mask the appearance of an unusually high amount of testosterone. It is therefore classified as a prohibited substance.
The urine sample given for doping tests is taken by a person of the same gender who is also authorised to check any irregularities in the athlete’s genitalia.
‘IAAF [International Association of Athletics Federations] protocols regarding the normal ratio between testosterone and epi-testosterone as 1:1. When it becomes exceptionally high, like 4:1, you start suspecting a problem,” said Hattingh.
The IAAF previously allowed athletes with ratios of up to 6:1 to compete, but now further tests are launched if the ratio is more than 4:1, said Hattingh.
It is understood that Semenya’s tests show she is well within the acceptable range. The sources refused to be named because the testing process is confidential.
Meanwhile, ASA boss Leonard Chuene continues to insist that no tests that might clear Semenya’s eligibility status have been performed.
The middle-distance ASA coach, Wilfred Daniels, would not be drawn into discussing the Semenya case, but said ‘gender testing is not unique to Caster’s situation”.
Chuene told the M&G that ASA is not ‘against the test”, but wanted the IAAF to consult ASA before testing.
In an interview with the M&G Daniels said: ‘Gender testing is part of the sport. We are not against gender testing. It is because of the way it was handled. If they [the IAAF] want to test they must test everyone.”
But Daniels insists that ASA is not as naive as it may sound: ‘We are not sitting ducks in this issue. Do these people really think we [would] allow such a fraud to take place under our watch?”
Insiders close to ASA believe that Semenya was the ultimate ‘sacrificial lamb” in the organisation’s thirst for medals.
‘They might have looked the other way when concerns were raised about Semenya,” said one.
On Tuesday Chuene made another attempt to divert blame from ASA, accusing a South African newspaper of starting the furore by ‘complaining” to the IAAF. It is understood that he was referring to the Afrikaans Sunday paper Rapport.
Chuene refused to confirm this but said the paper in question would not face further action.
Rapport editor Liza Albrecht told the M&G its athletics writer corresponded with the IAAF only after reports about Semenya had appeared in the Australian media.
No stranger to steroids
He is known in some circles as the creator of champions, but the head coach of Team South Africa’s elite athletes, Dr Ekkart Arbeit (68), has a chequered past that Athletics South Africa ignored when they slipped him in through the back door.
Arbeit was brought in by ASA to boost South Africa’s chances of scoring medals at high-level athletics meetings and he oversaw the coaching of Semenya and her teammates, including medal-winners Khotso Mokoena and Mbulaeni Mulaudzi.
Arbeit refused to be interviewed when the M&G contacted him at his home in Berlin.
Born in East Germany, Arbeit was a former head coach of the East German athletics team during the Iron Curtain years, when pumping athletes full of steroids was a state-sponsored affair.
He was disgraced in 1995 when he was named in a German parliamentary inquiry headed by Professor Werner Franke as a key figure in the 1970s and 1980s East German doping machine.
At the time of the inquiry Franke labelled Arbeit a mastermind of one of ‘the largest pharmacological programmes in history” and ‘a major person responsible for the use of anabolic steroids”. The Franke report revealed that, while Arbeit was coach, he coordinated plans for which athletes should take which drugs and in what amounts.
Franke found that Arbeit used performance-boosting steroids that could lead to the manipulation of sex hormones.
At the time Arbeit shrugged off the report.
‘Everybody took the same or more drugs than East Germany,” he said. He admitted knowledge of drug use in East Germany during his eight years in senior posts, saying it was ‘part of the time”.
One of Arbeit’s former athletes, shotput champion Heidi Krieger, felt forced to undergo sex-change surgery in 1997, seven years after she retired from athletics, to become Andreas Krieger. He maintains that Arbeit is to blame for this because of his role in supervising how he—then she—was systematically doped with anabolic steroids.
ASA first tried to appoint Arbeit before the 2002 Commonwealth Games and the 2004 Olympic games to train the South African team. But after his shady past was given an airing in the South African media ASA said Arbeit no longer wished to come.
But three years ago—before the Beijing Olympics—Arbeit was appointed as a scientific adviser.
Three months before Beijing, in May 2008, ASA justified his appointment to the parliamentary committee on sport and recreation.
‘Dr Arbeit comes with a wealth of experience, having worked with national athletics teams in his native Germany and [in] Italy. He is the most sought-after coach in the world and has refused lucrative offers from countries such as Australia,” says the report, which is in the possession of the M&G.
One MP who attended the meeting said the committee accepted Arbeit’s appointment because it trusted the bona fides of ASA. ‘We felt they knew what they were talking about and that they were telling the truth.”
But the truth was more complicated. Arbeit was sacked as coaching director by Athletics Australia in 1997 because of his doping past as well as evidence that he had once been a Stasi spy, working for the former German secret police.
Arbeit was given the task of driving ASA’s ‘high-performance strategy” by working with the cream of South African athletes. He would be especially involved in helping to train them for high-profile meetings such as the Olympics and the World Championships.
This week ASA general manager Molatelo Malehopo defended the organisation’s decision to appoint Arbeit as head coach on a consultancy basis. He pointed to Arbeit’s involvement in the IAAF—he presented a coaching course in Berlin this week after the championships.
‘We have been working with him for more than three years. He was appointed because of his credentials in sport. The IAAF doesn’t have a problem with him. Why should we?”
Although Arbeit politely declined to speak to the M&G this week, he said he was ‘very happy to see so many people for the arrival [of Caster Semenya] at the airport”.
In South Africa Arbeit worked with Wilfred Daniels, the team’s middle-distance coach, and Semenya’s personal coach, Michael Seme.
Arbeit is the head of ASA’s coaches who monitor athletes’ performances. ‘They are responsible for fitness testing and if they find that an athlete is not performing—maybe because of a weight problem—they will inform the athlete’s private coach,” Seme said.
How the saga unfolded
Caster Semenya wins the 800m at the African Junior Championships in Mauritius in a time of 1:56,72, almost eight seconds faster than her previous personal best, set in 2008. Speculation about her sex and possible doping starts to circulate. According to the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF), it asks Athletics South Africa to provide a report on Semenya’s sex. ASA president Leonard Cheune denies this happened.
The IAAF asks Dr Harold Adams, chief medical officer to the South African athletics team and the IAAF’s Africa medical representative, to ask Chuene to withdraw Semenya from the competition. Chuene responds: ‘I said no ways and asked what evidence they had. How do I say she must be withdrawn after her performance in Mauritius?”
Australian newspapers, including the Sydney Morning Herald and Herald Sun, report that the IAAF conducted physical checks and genetic screening on Semenya on August 18.
Hours before Semenya’s race, the IAAF announces that it has begun gender-verification testing on her. That evening Semenya wins the 800m women’s final in 1:55:45.
IAAF general secretary Pierre Weiss takes Semenya’s place at the post-race conference. He says an investigation into Semenya’s gender is under way and that, given the complex nature of the tests, it could be weeks before the results are available.
Chuene denies that the IAAF approached ASA officially on the matter and says Semenya has been treated ‘like a leper”. Molatelo Malehopo, the general manager of ASA, says: ‘We have not started testing and we have no plans to do so.”
The Young Communist League releases a statement, saying: ‘This smacks of racism of the highest order. It represents a mentality of conforming feminine outlook within the white race.” The ANC Youth League releases a similar statement saying ‘imperialist countries” are pushing a ‘racist agenda” on South Africa.
Phiwe Tsholetsane, the South Africa team manager, tells Britain’s TimesOnline: ‘I can confirm that Caster was never tested ... I would have had to give my consent for her to go to hospital ... and I have not.” But the IAAF names Harold Adams as the doctor leading its investigation.
Butana Komphela, chairperson of the portfolio committee on sport and recreation, accuses the IAAF of racism and sexism and says he plans to lodge a complaint against the IAAF with the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. Just because she is black and she surpassed her European competitors, there is all this uproar.”
IAAF president Lamine Diack admits the matter could have been treated more sensitively and cites a ‘leak of confidentiality” as the reason the IAAF felt compelled to confront the issue.
Chuene claims Semenya was duped into undergoing sex tests without the consent of the ASA.
The South African athletics team arrives back in the country to a near-hysterical welcome. At a press conference at OR?Tambo airport, Chuene says no concerns about Semenya’s gender have been raised at previous competitions and implies that the South African media are responsible for reporting Semenya to the IAAF. To date the ASA has released no formal statement on the matter.