SA officials meet on Semenya

South African athletics officials met on Saturday to decide how to respond to the latest revelations surrounding the gender of world champion Caster Semenya.

The meeting comes after the International Association of Athletics Federations, which ordered gender tests on the women’s world 800m champion, refused to confirm or deny media reports that the tests show Semenya has both male and female characteristics. The reports said Semenya has no ovaries or uterus, but internal testes that produce testosterone.

The IAAF says it is reviewing the results and will issue a final decision on whether Semenya will be allowed to continue to compete in women’s events in November.

“She is going to be dominating the debate today,” Athletics South Africa president Leonard Chuene told the Associated Press on Saturday.

Chuene said he and other officials would review, among other issues, his decision to withdraw from the IAAF board, which South Africa accuses of mishandling the Semenya case by violating requirements that such matters be handled privately. Results of the ASA deliberations will be announced on Sunday, Chuene said.

ASA-IAAF relations have been strained by the Semenya affair, but Chuene said Saturday, “We don’t fight them.
We just want to deal with the matter.”

Chuene said he withdrew from the IAAF board because “you can’t sit there, denying and fighting”. But he acknowledged a seat on the board might make it easier to defend Semenya’s interests, so the ASA meeting could recommend he resume his seat.

Chuene noted the IAAF had distanced itself from the reports in the Sydney Daily Telegraph and the Sydney Morning Herald that had angered many in South Africa, from President Jacob Zuma to school children in Semenya’s home village. Chuene said the ASA “will facilitate” talks between the IAAF and Semenya when requested.

Semenya won the 800m in Berlin on August 19 by 2,45 seconds in a world-record 1:55,45. Her dramatic improvement in times, muscular build and deep voice had sparked the speculation about her sex, and the IAAF announced the day of the final that tests had been ordered.

South African Sports Minister Makhenkesi Stofile called a news conference on Friday to speak out about the 18-year-old’s sex being debated publicly. Zuma told reporters in Cape Town that the media had exploited Semenya.

In Ga-Masehlong, the village where Semenya was born, and the neighbouring village of Fairlie where she went to high school, there was anger and confusion. Villagers wondered whether the reports were true, and about the emotional toll it could take on a teenager to see headlines declaring her a hermaphrodite and have talk show hosts discussing her genitals.

“Caster is a woman. I don’t like having to hear people from outside saying otherwise. Here in our village it doesn’t sit well with us,” said 18-year-old Mapula Phano, who went to high school with Semenya. “The stuff they have been saying about her could destroy her confidence.”

Erina Langa, a neighbour of Semenya’s grandmother, was impressed by how Semenya had handled the controversy.

“She is very, very, very brave,” Langa said. “She’s like her grandmother, she’s a tough lady. Anything that she wants, she can do it. She trusts herself.”

Semenya, who is a university student in Pretoria, was unsighted on Friday. Her coach, Michael Seme, said she would not take part in a 4 000m race at the South African Cross Country Championships in Pretoria on Saturday because she was “not feeling well.” He had said earlier in the week that she would run.

Her younger sister was alone on Friday at the family home in Ga-Masehlong in northern South Africa, curled up on a verandah that just last month was packed with relatives and friends celebrating Semenya’s victory in Germany. Asked if she wanted to speak, 16-year-old Mkele hid her face in her arms. A neighbour brushed past, saying only: “I’m not happy.”

Visitors at the home of her grandmother, Maputhi Sekgala, in nearby Fairlie found the gate padlocked. Neighbors said Sekgala had gone to another village for a funeral.

Sekgale was quoted in the Times on Friday as saying: “It can only be jealousy that makes them say that she is a man. I raised her as a young girl and I have no doubt that she is a girl. As the family, we don’t care who is saying what and we also don’t care, even if she won’t be running internationally, but we will always support her athletic talent.”

Semenya’s father was angry when contacted by the AP on Friday, saying people who say his daughter is not a woman “are sick, they are crazy. Are they God?” - Sapa-AP

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