Furious SA fights for super Caster
International ruling on intersex athletes slammed as an attack on African runners
● The South African government is planning to lobby other African countries as it prepares to wage war against the International Association of Athletics Federations over what critics are calling an unjust attempt to clip the wings of South Africa’s athletics wonderwoman, Caster Semenya.
Indications are that the government intends to contest the matter at the highest levels of world sport, possibly at the Court of Arbitration for Sport.
President Cyril Ramaphosa is likely to meet Semenya this week as the row intensified over new IAAF regulations that are widely viewed as an unfair attempt to slow her down.
Semenya is the reigning world and Olympic champion over 800m and won the 800 ma nd 1500 matt he Commonwealth Games in Australia this week.
Top international athletes have rallied to Semenya’s cause against the new rules to compel women athletes with high levels of naturally occurring testosterone to take medication to reduce them.
The ruling covers events from the 400m to the mile because the IAAF’s medical and science department says it has data showing a significant advantage for hyperandrogenous athletes over such distances.
The issue of hyperandrogenism is controversial because it pits principles of fair competition for biological women against the rights of women born with the intersex condition.
Sports Minister Tokozile Xasa confirmed yesterday that she will be briefing Ramaphosa on the issues around the IAAF’s decision. A meeting between Semenya and the president will follow.
“We want to brief the president that we are challenging the international platform,” she said.
The ANC has blasted the new regulations as unjust and racist and urged the government to challenge them in court.
Semenya made her first public appearance following the announcement at the University Sports South Africa track and field event held at DP de Villiers Stadium in Sasolburg on Friday. She was welcomed by yelling supporters in the stands and cruised to victory in the 400m heat. Yesterday Semenya won the 400m final, and today she will run the 200m heats.
She declined requests for interviews.
‘Racist and discriminatory’
Said Xasa: “We want a position as South Africa to challenge this regulation. Caster has been winning. She has not been representing herself, she represents our country.
“We hope to look at other African countries. We will approach them and we must also get their support. It is not only directed at us, it is going to impact other athletes coming from Africa, nowhere else. ”
Xasa said she was in communication with the South African Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee and Athletics South Africa about internal processes.
The minister asked South Africans to give Semenya the opportunity to focus on her training.
“We understand that this issue has angered a lot of people in South Africa and around the world, but we are appealing to members of the public to give Caster her space so that she can focus on her training. There will be a time at her convenience where she will address the nation but we are 100% behind her.”
Experts for and against the IAAF’s decision to order women athletes to lower their testosterone levels agree on one thing — that the science used by the federation is deeply flawed.
This week the federation announced that women and intersex track athletes may only have testosterone levels that are double those of 99% of all women. Athletes with higher levels would need to take medicine similar to hormonal contraceptives.
Katrina Karkazis, a medical anthropologist and bioethicist at the Stanford Centre for Biomedical Ethics in California, is an ardent supporter of Semenya.
“Once you discriminate [against certain athletes] you have to show just reason to discriminate,” said Karkazis. “What evidence does the IAAF have? None.”
While she called the issue complex, she argued the lack of science behind the policy proved that it was “racist and discriminatory” and aimed at Semenya and athletes from the “global South”.
Since the 1930s, intersex athletes have been confounding authorities. An intersex athlete, also known as an athlete with differences of sexual development, possesses anatomical characteristics that are neither typically male nor typically female.
The IAAF argues that intersex people — often with testosterone levels 10 times higher
It is going to impact other athletes coming from Africa, nowhere else Tokozile Xasa Sports Minister
than women athletes — have an unfair advantage. The federation noted this week that intersex athletes’ presence in athletic sport is 140 times that of their existence in the general population.
Indian sprinter Dutee Chand said the new rules on women’s testosterone levels were “wrong” and offered Semenya legal help.
Chand, who won a court battle for her right to compete with a hormonal imbalance, said she was relieved to have avoided falling under the regulations because as a sprinter she races over shorter distances than those covered by the rule.
“I feel for athletes like Semenya. I strongly believe the current rules are also wrong,” said Chand. “I have offered Semenya my legal team if she needs. I have e-mailed her offering my support and help.”
Semenya — who burst on to the scene in 2009 when she won the world 800m title — has long attracted debate because of her powerful physique.
After winning the title, Semenya was required to take testosterone-suppressing medicine by the IAAF in order to compete. However, in July 2015 the Court of Arbitration for Sport reversed this ruling and allowed intersex athletes to compete without an intervention to suppress their testosterone levels.
The IAAF had not been able to prove to the court that high testosterone levels gave women athletes an unfair advantage.
Sports scientist Professor Ross Tucker, formerly of the University of the Free State, said the IAAF had done “the best in a bad situation”.
He said there could have been as many as 20 intersex athletes competing in world championships in the 2016-2017 period.
“The thing South Africans don’t understand, as we have got our patriotic blindfolds on, is that the IAAF has to manage different people and different conflicts. They don’t exist only for Semenya.”
Tucker said many women track athletes felt — and were — disadvantaged by the growing number of intersex athletes.
But he, too, said that the federation could not prove that intersex athletes had an unfair advantage because the type of study needed would be impossible to conduct.
“The only way to prove intersex athletes are advantaged is to find 30 or so around the world and give some a placebo and other testosterone-lowering medication, without their knowledge, and track their times over six months and then to switch medication. But this would be unethical,” said Tucker.
Caster Semenya, seen in action this week, has run into a new storm.
Indian sprinter Dutee Chand, spared the new IAAF ruling on testosterone, has offered Semenya her support.
California-based bioethicist Katrina Karkazis suggested the IAAF had acted without evidence.