‘Fight for Caster Semenya, fight for our nation’

Sport Minister Tokozile Xasa has urged the nation to lend their support to Caster Semenya ahead of her Court of Arbitration for Sport (CSA) hearing next week.

The two-time Olympic gold medallist and Athletics SA (ASA) is asking the court to declare testosterone regulations that the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) implemented last year as discriminatory.

“Our history as a nation was in the main based on the defence of our people against their human rights violation, a right to belong, that all humans are created equal,” Xasa said on Friday morning.

“Therefore as South African government we have a direct interest in the proceedings and outcome of this case. This interest is informed by our historical stance as a nation towards human rights and also if the proposed regulations go unchallenged will have a negative impact to our golden girl, Caster Semenya,” she added.

In April, the athletics body introduced new “eligibility regulations for female classification” that restricted the testosterone levels of for female athletes in the 400m, hurdles, 800m, 1 500m and combined events.

Under the rules, athletes who have a “difference of sexual development” (DSD) would have to ensure their circulating testosterone level remains under 5nmol/L. Athletes who exceeded the limit would have to alter their bodies by medical means if they wished to compete at international events.

READ MORE: Bad science won’t undo Semenya

The restrictions would severely impact Semenya in particular, who as things stand, would be unable compete in the 800m and 1500m without undergoing medical interventions.

“What’s at stake here is far more than the right to participate in a sport,” Xasa reiterated. “Women’s bodies, their wellbeing, their ability to earn a livelihood, their very identity, their privacy and sense of safety and belonging in the world, are being questioned. This is a gross violation of internationally accepted standards of human rights law.”

The sports department has been vocal in its support of Semenya ever since the new regulations were announced last year. On Friday, Xasa revealed that a “high-level panel consisting of the medical and legal work-streams” was established to help support the athlete’s case and that a legal team will appear before the CSA. Another stream was established to reinforce public awareness and solidarity.

Semenya’s lawyers had also released a statement on Thursday, reaffirming that Semya is “unquestionably a woman”.

“Her case is about the rights of women such as Ms Semenya who are born as women,” the statement reads.

“Reared and socialised as women, who have been legally recognised as women for their entire lives, who have always competed as women, and who should be permitted to compete in the female category without discrimination.”

The IAAF, however, this week denied that it is looking to prove Semenya is a “biological male”.

“To the contrary, we accept their legal sex without question, and permit them to compete in the female category,” it said in a statement.

“If a DSD athlete has testes and male levels of testosterone, they get the same increases in bone and muscle size and strength and increases in haemoglobin that a male gets when they go through puberty.

“Therefore, to preserve fair competition in the female category, it is necessary to require DSD athletes to reduce their testosterone down to female levels before they compete at international level.”

Luke Feltham
Luke Feltham

Luke Feltham runs the Mail & Guardian's sports desk. He was previously the online day editor.

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