Mbalula comes to Caster's defence
FOLLOWING South African 800m sensation Caster Semenya's Olympic silver medal win, allegations surfaced that the athlete had deliberately not run to win gold, and the accusations have angered Sports Minister Fikile Mbalula.
Yesterday he lashed out at people making allegations that Semenya had deliberately opted not to go for the gold medal to avoid the public and media spotlight she was put under after winning the world title three years ago at the world championships in Berlin, which was followed by questions over the athlete's gender.
"That is just beerhall talk. There is no such thing! The whole team has done an excellent job. For a young girl like Caster to achieve what she did under so much pressure whereby people judge who she is, is enormous - it is a victory to her human dignity," said Mbalula.
Semenya was beaten to the finish line by Russian Mariya Savinova by more than a second, but managed to edge ahead of another Russian, Ekaterina Poistogova.
"She is a courageous young girl. If I were in her shoes I would never have coped. We must celebrate her victory. Winning silver is not easy, it takes plenty of sweat and blood," said Mbalula.
The minister heaped praise on the SA Olympic team, which returns from the London Games today.
Despite the team not reaching their target of 12 medals, Mbalula expressed his satisfaction with the results - six medals (three gold, two silver and one bronze) - and described SA's performance in London as "our most successful".
"Though in quantitative terms we did not achieve the 12-medal target set by Sascoc, the three gold medals achieved by our athletes is a resounding success in qualitative terms and we should embrace them, treasure them and cherish them," he said.
With the London Games now over, focus for athletes and administrators now shifts to the four-year journey to the next Olympics in 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Mbalula stressed the importance of investing in developing athletes.
He also said that "squabbles" within athletics have resulted in South African athletes not reaching their full potential.
"We must celebrate this victory and continue to raise our qualification bar for all our sporting people in order to make them more competitive in the upcoming international sports tournaments, including Rio 2016," said Mbalula.