Poverty and prej­u­dice

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - COMMENT -

HOW SAD that the achieve­ments of Caster Se­menya have been over­shad- owed by the row over her gen­der. She over­came poverty and prej­u­dice when she won the women’s 800m gold medal in Berlin on Wed­nes­day, and de­serves great credit for that.

In­stead she is be­ing ex­posed to pub­lic ridicule from some of Europe’s more ex­citable me­dia and bit­ter op­po­nents. Ital­ian ath­lete Elisa Pic­cione – smart­ing af­ter be­ing left in Se­menya’s wake – blunt- ly dis­missed her as a man in a women’s race.

Any­body with a grain of com­pas­sion will surely feel for this young woman: news­pa­per re­ports on her fam­ily show she grew up in tough cir­cum­stances, ones far re­moved from those of most of her pam­pered com­peti­tors.

Be­cause of her physique, she has been the vic­tim of prej­u­dice for much of her life. A for­mer school prin­ci­pal de­scribed how Se­menya was some­times chal­lenged at ath­let­ics meet­ings and would be re- quired to prove she was a woman.

In the light of this his­tory, ques­tions need to be asked about how her men­tors and Ath­let­ics South Africa al­lowed this de­ba­cle to evolve. Surely they could have an­tic­i­pated the re­ac­tion and taken pre­cau­tions?

The In­ter­na­tional As­so­ci­a­tion of Ath­let­ics Fed-

er­a­tions might also want to con­tem­plate its role in this af­fair. The tim­ing of its an­nounce­ment that Se­menya was be­ing gen­der tested was as­ton­ish­ingly in­sen­si­tive and, pre­dictably, gave rise to spec­u­la­tion that it was de­signed to put Se­menya off her stride.

Now is the time for or­di­nary South Africans to re­pair the dam­age and warmly wel­come her back to the coun­try. Some politi­cians have sug­gested they are go­ing to be at the air­port when she flies home, but it would surely help ease her pain more if their self-serv­ing voices were drowned out by the

heart­felt sup­port of her coun­try­men and women.

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