Only Semenya has emerged from this saga with any dignity
SOUTH Africa has severed diplomatic relations with the world and envoys are to be recalled forthwith. The Cape sea route has been declared an exclusion zone.
It is the biggest outbreak of national hysteria over sport since El Salvador invaded Honduras over who should qualify for the 1970 soccer World Cup.
The row between South Africa and the International Association of Athletics Federations is over the controversy of whether teen running sensation Caster Semenya is indeed female.
It appears from the furious response that by demanding medical gender verification the IAAF has not only insulted a flower of South African womanhood but besmirched national honour.
Judging from the deluge of marriage offers that greeted Semenya’s return, it appears that we like our women with six-packs, broad shoulders, deep voices, and a permanent two-day stubble.
African National Congress Youth League leader Julius Malema – predictably neglecting to load his brain before shooting off his mouth – was quick to blame the entire Caucasian world for the humiliation of Semenya by the IAAF. Who are white people, he demanded, to ques- tion the sex of Caster?
Athletics SA’s president, Leonard Chuene, proclaimed that ASA would not allow “Europeans to describe and define our children” and claimed that “white racists” had “tipped off ” the IAAF to the rumours about Semenya’s gender.
Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, always eager to puff air into her slowly deflating public profile, blamed SA media for rumours about Semenya and warned such an abuse of press freedom could cause the ANC “to take it away”.
It is in itself an unthinking racism and ingrained inferiority complex that automatically sees white racists and Europeans as the cause of all Semenya’s woes. Espe- cially since the local outrage has come from people across the race spectrum – including the mostly non-black Democratic Alliance and Independent Democrats.
It ignores the fact that the president of the IAAF is Senegalese and his council draws members from every part of the world, including countries like Qatar, Morocco, India and Kenya, while the medical committee includes a Jamaican and, um, a South African.
The finger-pointing at Semenya has come not only from Russia and Italy but from athletic rivals like Kenya, Jamaica, and Ethiopia.
The IAAF did not need to be alerted by racist whiteys about Semenya’s difficulties. Her overtly masculine appearance and exceptional improvement in performance have for a while been a matter of speculation in international athletics – a sporting code not unused to some very butch looking women – and she has spoken openly of often being mistaken for a man.
Nor does it help that ASA’s head coach is one Ekkart Arbeit, former coach to the Communist-era East Germany athletics team, which was notorious for illegal steroid use.
Shotput gold medallist Heidi Krieger was given so much male hormone during the 1980s that in 1997 she had gender reassignment surgery to become a man, and is now called Andreas.
Gender-testing is enor mously complicated and intrusive, fraught with legal and social ramifications that can be crippling to the psychological health of an athlete. Nevertheless, if there is doubt about an athlete, it should be resolved quietly and speedily, for everyone’s sake.
It is an indictment of both the blinkered ASA and the hamfisted IAAF that instead Semenya has been exposed to such public humiliation. In fact, the only one who has come out of this horrid situation with any dignity is Caster Semenya herself.
Over the coming weeks she is going to need every bit of personal resilience and support she can get.
Support the woman, but not like hysterical schoolgirls.