IAAF tarnishes reputation targeting 'golden girl'

FILE IMAGE: South Africa's Caster Semenya (C) competes in the athletics women's 800m final during the 2018 Gold Coast Commonwealth Games at the Carrara Stadium on the Gold Coast on April 13, 2018.
FILE IMAGE: South Africa's Caster Semenya (C) competes in the athletics women's 800m final during the 2018 Gold Coast Commonwealth Games at the Carrara Stadium on the Gold Coast on April 13, 2018.
Image: Adrian DENNIS / AFP

The ruling by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) in support of measures introduced by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF), forcing female athletes to regulate their testosterone levels, has evidently sent shock waves around the globe.

Caster Semenya and Athletics South Africa (ASA) were fighting measures by the IAAF, which compel athletes with "differences of sexual development" (DSD) to lower their testosterone levels if they wish to compete as women.

According to media reports, Indian sprinter Dutee Chand challenged the IAAF and won, prompting the world governing body to change its rules to target only middle-distance events, arguing these were most affected by elevated testosterone.

During his playing days, former soccer player Mark Fish was reported to have uniquely high capacity lungs. I wonder how the IAAF would have dealt with this one if it was in its ambit.

My point of departure will therefore be around reports that the IAAF has previously said "it is confident of the legal, scientific and ethical basis for the regulations".

The CAS three-judge panel ruled 2 against 1 that even though the rules are "discriminatory, such discrimination is a necessary, reasonable and proportionate means of achieving the IAAF's aim of preserving the integrity of female athletics in the restricted events".

While I might not be empowered to argue on the legal and scientific basis, my take is that the IAAF's measure violates Semenya's human rights and are ethically wrong.

From a brand and reputation perspective, I am not sure if the IAAF is prepared and has considered how it will deal with the potential crisis from the implementation of the regulations.

The atmosphere of disappointment in Semenya's home in Moletjie, Limpopo, and SA could be summed up in her reaction, "I know that the IAAF's regulations have always targeted me specifically. For a decade the IAAF has tried to slow me down, but this has actually made me stronger".

As a former spokesperson of the defunct Aganang local municipality, I recall a call from the late journalist Ramatsiyi Moholoa who told me of journalists who wanted to interview Semenya's family and people from her area which led me to become the pointsman for global media before Semenya conquered the 2009 World Championships in Berlin, Germany.

One has to understand and appreciate the pride that her family, especially her grandmother Koko Mmaphuti Sekgala, have in her achievements and how questions about her gender disturbed them even back then.

As I was trying to make sense of the CAS decision, I consulted former Aganang mayors Mmanoko Masehela and Maria Mokobodi, who supported Semenya during the 2009 World Champs and 2012 London Olympics.

We were there at OR Tambo Airport and at her home in Masehlong village when she returned from Berlin and we were there in Fairlie Village to count 100 days to the 2012 London Olympics with Nthema High School pupils and teachers. We were also there to watch TV with Sekgala when Semenya grabbed the silver medal in the 800m race in London.

The understanding of the pride the family, the people of Masehlong and Fairlie villages have in their golden girl, makes one wonder how devastating this decision is for them. One wonders why the IAAF is ready to tarnish a reputation built over 107 years that is viewed as inhumane in most quarters.

Caster's legal team and ASA are within their rights to challenge the ruling.

-Malesela is president of the Public Relations Institute of Southern Africa (@1PRISA). He writes in his personal capacity.

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