Semenya saga: Chuene's trail of lies
An exchange of emails between the doctor of the South African athletics team, Harold Adams, and Athletics South Africa boss Leonard Chuene makes it crystal clear that Chuene knew Caster Semenya was gender-tested in South Africa before the World Championships in Berlin last month.
Chuene’s denial that he knew of any tests conducted locally before the tournament is one of a string of lies exposed by a Mail & Guardian investigation.
The email, which the M&G has seen, was sent by Adams to ASA general manager Molatelo Malehopo and copied to Chuene on August 5. The World Championships began on August 15.
It reads: ‘After thinking about the current confidential matter I would suggest that we make the following decisions.
We get a gynae opinion and take it to Berlin. 2. We do nothing and I will handle these issues if they come up in Berlin. Please think and get back to me ASAP.”
An emailed response from Malehopo to Adams, sent on the same day, reads: ‘I will suggest that you go ahead with the necessary tests that the IAAF might need.”
Chuene has repeatedly maintained that no tests were conducted in South Africa before the tournament. He has also denied that ASA authorised and paid for the tests.
Chuene has defended his decision to field the 800m champion in Berlin, by saying that ‘no reasons were given to him on why he should withdraw Semenya from the championships”.
The M&G can reveal that Semenya was tested at the Medforum Medi-clinic in Pretoria early last month and that she received counselling from ASA board member and psychologist Laraine Lane beforehand.
The tests were conducted by Oscar Shimange, a medical doctor specialising in obstetrics and gynaecology.
Approached for comment, Lane said this week: ‘I cannot discuss issues regarding my clients. I can’t deny or confirm anything; it would be a conflict of interest if I did that. I would like to help you, but I can’t.”
Chuene has also claimed that Adams, who was commissioned by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) to oversee Semenya’s gender tests in South Africa, is not the official doctor of team South Africa.
In an ASA press release about the final team for the World Championships in Berlin, sent out on August 4 and in possession of the M&G, Adams is listed in the team’s management as ‘team doctor”.
President Jacob Zuma’s personal physician, Adams arrived with Semenya on August 9 in Neubrandenburg, Germany, where team South Africa was based.
A senior official close to ASA said that when team South Africa was in Neubrandenburg, Adams received a call from Medforum Medi-clinic informing him of Semenya’s gender test results, which were ‘not good”. The results can take up to two days to arrive after testing.
The official said Adams then convened a meeting with Chuene, ASA vice-president Kakata Maponyane and the events manager of team South Africa, Phiwe Mlangeni-Tsholetsane. Adams advised them to withdraw Semenya from the competition, but they refused. Adams had also examined sprinters Kagiso Kumbane and Tshegofatso Meshoe, and advised that they should be withdrawn because of injury. The ASA had obliged.
Another official told the M&G: ‘Mlangeni-Tsholetsane said they couldn’t withdraw Semenya because they needed a medal at all costs. Chuene didn’t even bother to brief the athlete about the developments around the tests and the implications. They destroyed an innocent girl because of a medal.”
Efforts to get comment from Adams proved fruitless, as he did not return the M&G‘s calls.
A senior athletics official who knows Chuene well said: ‘Chuene has been lying to the nation from the onset. It’s time for him and his crew to tell the truth, apologise to the nation and resign.”
The official said before the Berlin championships Adams received an email from the IAAF raising concerns about Semenya’s gender.
Adams had responded by sending the email already described to Malehopo and Chuene seeking advice on what action to take. After consulting Chuene, Malehopo responded, authorising gender tests.
‘The arrangements were made and Semenya was taken in for tests accompanied by her coach, Michael Seme. There’s just no way that they didn’t know about the tests,” said the senior official.
Contacted for comment, Malehopo denied giving Adams the go-ahead. ‘That is interesting news to me. If people have evidence they should bring it forward and we will take it from there but I don’t know anything.”
He said he knew nothing about his August 5 email to Adams. He also promised to respond to questions to him and Chuene, but neither had done so by the time the M&G went to print.
ASA’s Maponyane has stood by Chuene, claiming that Adams had given no reason for withdrawing Semenya from the competition. ‘He only said that he was waiting for the results from South Africa but did not explain further. And that is when we learned that Semenya had undergone gender tests in South Africa. We want to know who authorised those tests to be conducted without our knowledge,” he said.
The ASA has called for its own commission of inquiry into the Semenya affair, while Parliament’s sports committee has demanded that the athletics body be hauled before the National Assembly.
But the senior official who spoke to the M&G warned that Chuene’s friends ‘will sit in that commission. Parliament will not help either, because Chuene is politically well connected. What we need is a judicial commission of inquiry, which has to be instituted by [Jacob] Zuma. It should look at the burning issue and athletics in general. ASA leaders should step aside until we get to the bottom of this.”
Semenya sold to the highest bidder
Athletics South Africa (ASA) has fired Caster Semenya’s Finnish agent, Jakku Härkönen, and taken over his public relations role, which includes marketing the athlete to the corporate world, writes Phathisani Moyo.
ASA events manager Phiwe Mlangeni-Tsholetsane confirmed that the association has taken over the management of Caster’s business affairs. The ASA organised the photographs of the World 800m champion dressed as a glamour girl in You magazine for a fee, while preventing her from speaking to other media organisations.
Neither the magazine nor Mlangeni-Tsholetsane would reveal the fee. Semenya is said to have been paid R20 000.
‘We fired Härkönen in Berlin and I will be managing Caster until she gets a local agent to look after her affairs,” Mlangeni-Tsholetsane told the M&G this week.
She defended the association’s decision to terminate the contract of the Finnish agent, who also has men’s 800m world champion Mbulaeni Mulaudzi and Olympic triple-jump silver medallist Khotso Mokoena on his books.
‘We have difficulties in dealing with our athletes who are managed from outside, especially by Härkönen,” she said.
The ASA official emailed the M&G a damning letter penned by South Africa’s former athletics coach, Angus Pohl, about Härkönen’s alleged activities to support the claim that the ASA had acted in Semenya’s interests.
In the letter, Pohl blames his fall-out with Mokoena just before the Beijing Olympics on the Finnish agent and implies that his behaviour is exploitative.
Härkönen refused to comment.
Ironically, ASA stood by Mokoena in his court battle with Pohl, who quit as Mokoena’s coach on the eve of the Beijing Olympics but subsequently demanded between R170 000 and R200 000 after the athlete won silver.
Former ASA coach Wilfred Daniels branded ASA’s stance ‘two-faced”. ‘How can they now want to jump into the same bed with a guy [Pohl] who abandoned the team on the eve of the Olympics and successfully sued their athlete for a large amount of his bonus?” he asked.
Daniels also alleged that ASA officials were exploiting Caster for financial gain.
Another ASA official, who refused to be named, said Semenya’s coach, Michael Seme, had been left behind when the South African team travelled to Berlin, while Humile Bogatsu, the personal assistant of ASA president Leonard Chuene, went as the assistant team manager.
‘Now Seme has been told to stay away from Caster’s business dealings,” said the official.
‘Phiwe [Mlangeni-Tsholetsane] and Bogatsu have taken over the Caster Semenya brand. I don’t know how much You magazine paid for that interview but I can confirm that Caster only received R20 000.”
Daniels further claimed that invitations for Semenya to appear on the television shows of talk-show queens Oprah Winfrey and Tyra Banks fell through because the ASA demanded an appearance fee.
‘Caster was willing to appear on the shows, as she wanted to speak for herself. But the whole thing fell apart when Phiwe demanded money,” said Daniels.
Efforts to get comment from Mlangeni-Tsholetsane on Daniels’s allegations proved fruitless. She did not respond to messages left at the ASA.
The ASA source said the association’s officials had been barred from talking to the media on the instructions of a newly hired public relations company, MS&L Worldwide.
The company, the source said, had been brought on board for the purposes ‘damage control” in the Semenya saga.
MS&L Worldwide issued its first media statement on Thursday on behalf of the ASA, saying that the association would now focus on protecting Semenya’s professional career and allowing her to compete legitimately.
Who is Harold Adams?
If President Jacob Zuma wants to know the truth about the Caster Semenya saga, he need only ask his doctor, writes Yolandi Groenewald.
Athletics South Africa’s chief medical officer and team doctor, Harold Adams, is also Zuma’s personal doctor. Before that he was former president Thabo Mbeki’s doctor, taking the position in 1999.
Adams has been identified as one of the pivotal players in the Semenya mess and possibly the only person who knows the whole truth about when the athlete was tested in South Africa and what happened afterwards.
Adams, from a poor background, is also president of Boland Athletics and works at the military hospital in Wynberg, Cape Town.
A hospital spokesperson told the Mail & Guardian this week that he was accompanying the president on ‘convoy duty”. He has a kept low profile since the Semenya story broke.
The IAAF is said to hold him in high esteem, and he is a member of the association’s medical committee.
The IAAF said last week that it had been struggling to reach him to find out what the South African test on Semenya had revealed. But media reports this week suggest that the federation has now spoken to him.
Adams is no stranger to controversy. In 2005 he was reportedly investigated by the military police in connection with suspected fraud for medicines that he allegedly signed out of the defence force, among other matters.
No charges were brought against him. This week the military police declined to comment on the investigation.