IAAF must play fair on Caster Semenya

South African 800 meters Olympic champion Caster Semenya arrives for a landmark hearing at the Court of Arbitration (CAS) in Lausanne on February 18, 2019.
South African 800 meters Olympic champion Caster Semenya arrives for a landmark hearing at the Court of Arbitration (CAS) in Lausanne on February 18, 2019.
Image: Harold CUNNINGHAM / AFP

As if she has not been burdened enough throughout her young career, Caster Semenya was once again thrust into the international spotlight this week.

She has spent the week at the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) in Lausanne, Switzerland, having been hauled there by the IAAF, which seeks to restrict her.

Naturally, those who are for justice are up in arms, questioning the IAAF's motives after it had chastised Semenya, the reigning 800m Olympic and world champion, for so long.

We had to vehemently defend her when she was pilloried by the international media following her success in the 2009 World Championships in Berlin, Germany. It is now 10 years since those games, but Semenya continues to be unfairly treated in the IAAF's guise of "levelling the playing field".

The IAAF regulations stipulate that women with elevated testosterone must take medication to reduce their hormonal levels before being allowed to compete, but only the middle-distance events of between 400- and 1500m seem targeted. This is clearly a campaign against Semenya, a witch-hunt meant to discourage her from displaying her talent on the world stage. It is grossly unfair and must be opposed.

We are encouraged to see our sports minister Tokozile Xasa take the lead and fully supporting Semenya and her legal team. Xasa announced last Friday that the government would make available up to R25m towards the case at the CAS. She followed up that promise by flying out to Switzerland to be by Semenya's side as she faces the glare of the international media.

The restrictions the IAAF seeks to bring would mean Semenya is forced to change her natural self to conform to weird, intrusive perceptions about her gender. It would set a dangerous precedent.

The reality is that sportspeople, and indeed people in general, can never be the same. For years Usain Bolt dominated the track because he was taller than other competitors. Is the IAAF now going to use height to determine participation in its events?

We condemn this backward thinking, and urge the international sporting world to accept Semenya for who she is. Enough is enough. Let our star shine. Beat her on the field, not through some court action.

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