/ 10 September 2018

‘Bold and unapologetic’ Semenya honoured in Nike’s ‘Just Do It’ campaign

Caster Semenya alongside the young girl who plays her in the film.
Caster Semenya alongside the young girl who plays her in the film. (Nike)

Nike has released a new film honouring two-time Olympic gold medallist and middle distance runner Caster Semenya.

In a statement, Nike said the film celebrates “the tenacious spirit and strength of an athlete who is breaking barriers and writing her own story.

“Over the last 10 years, she [Semenya] has been breaking records, collected 18 gold medals and inspired a new generation of athletes to be the best they can be on and off the track.”

Semenya posted the video on social media accompanied by the words “Too fast? Too bad. I was born to do this. #justdoit” on Monday.

In the video, Semenya goes back in time from her first Olympic win to when she was a child running in her village near Polokwane, Limpopo, where her passion began with her voice narrating: “Would it be easier for you if I wasn’t so fast? Would it be simpler for you if I stopped winning?”

Controversy has surrounded Semenya’s gender and her testosterone levels since she rose to fame in 2008 when she ran the 800 metres and earned her first gold medal in the World Junior Championship at just 17 years old.

“My first win was such a great feeling. It was a dream come true and a realisation that hard work, dedication and believing in yourself no matter the obstacles pays off.

“Growing up in a small rural area, I was never told I could run, but I always knew I was born to run, to run fast and to win.”

Her dominance on the track and her muscular physique saw the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) insist that she take both drug and gender tests.

After nearly a year of testing and deliberation, an IAAF panel declared in July 2010 that Semenya would keep her world championship and could compete as a woman.

Talks of Semenya’s gender have never quite died down and were brought into focus earlier this year when the IAAF issued a ruling that seeks to limit the amount of natural testosterone in female athletes.

This ruling means that if Semenya wants to keep competing in the 800m and 1500m events, she will have to take daily medication to lower her testosterone levels. The Athletics South Africa has committed to challenging this ruling.

Nike’s ad campaign caused a furore on social media when former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick was announced as the face of the campaign last week.

Kaepernick sparked controversy when he knelt during the US national anthem in 2016 to protest police brutality and racial injustice.

Critics of Kaepernick, who have framed his protest as unpatriotic and disrespectful to the US military, took to Twitter after the Nike deal was announced.

Some even went as a far as vowing to burn Nike goods, with the hashtag “JustBurnIt” trending alongside #BoycottNike.

Country music singer John Rich posted a photo of a pair of slashed Nike sports socks.

“Our Soundman just cut the Nike swoosh off his socks,” Rich wrote on Twitter. “Get ready @Nike multiply that by the millions.”

Nike also caught flak for exploiting legitimate social justice campaigns.

Despite the criticism, Nike saw sales surge by 31% shortly after the campaign launch.