Fu­ri­ous SA fights for su­per Caster

In­ter­na­tional rul­ing on in­ter­sex ath­letes slammed as an at­tack on African run­ners

Sunday Times - - Front Page - By MAHLATSE MPHAHLELE and KATHARINE CHILD

● 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”.

Re­versed rul­ing

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.

Pic­ture: Alais­ter Rus­sell

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.

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