26 February 2019

South Africa: Caster Semenya in the Race of Her Life

Photo: Gavin Barker/BackpagePix
South Africa's Caster Semenya wins silver in the women's 800m finals (file photo).

South Africa raised a legless son who outran able-bodied athletes before becoming the defendant in one of the biggest criminal trials in history. It also produced a daughter whose prowess on the track raised eyebrows around the world over her glittering achievements – and testosterone levels.

Legalbrief reports that Olympic champion Caster Semenya last week took on the might of the IAAF at the Court for Arbitration of Sport (CAS) in Switzerland. The issue was a proposed ruling which would see her forced to lower her natural testosterone levels if she wants to keep competing in women's athletics. The court has described the case as one of its most 'pivotal' in its 35-year history.

Her lawyers, Norton Rose Fulbright, teamed up with two Canadian lawyers for the landmark hearing. A report on the Sport24 site notes that her appeal marked a ground breaking moment in the history of sport and President Cyril Ramaphosa described her as 'a champion and beacon of hope' ahead of the hearing.

' My daughter, this is only to remind you of your greatness; because you constantly remind us that nothing beats the enduring power of the human spirit,' he said in a statement.

The athlete is effectively fighting to save her career. The testosterone level the IAAF now wants her to have is lower than what it demanded between 2010 and 2015. The Sunday Times reports that Semenya was just 18 when her personal medical information was leaked by the IAAF 'in what must rank as one of the worst cases of body shaming'.

Full report on the Sport24 site

Full Sunday Times report (subscription needed)

The landmark hearing will see a verdict late next month. In a statement over the weekend, the CAS said it had adhered to its timetable for the hearing which started with IAAF president Sebastian Coe a week ago and ended with a closing statement from Semenya on Friday afternoon.

The hearings were done behind closed doors with strict confidentiality guidelines. The court said the hearings were conducted in a cordial and respectful atmosphere. A report on the EWN site notes that CAS also added it dealt with a similar testosterone case with Indian sprinter Dutee Chand but said Semenya's case is different as the IAAF believes it has new evidence.

Full report on the EWN site

For some, this is the opening of the floodgates: the point at which the very notion of women's sport, perhaps even the very notion of gender itself, is on the cusp of being ruptured beyond recognition. That's the view of analyst Jonathan Liew, writing in The Independent . 'For most of the arguments against allowing trans women to compete in female athletic competition rest on a scenario that borders on the fantastical.

Are we really suggesting there are hordes of male athletes who will suddenly declare themselves female simply to game the system?

Going through the protracted and often traumatic transition process, securing the necessary medical and psychological documentation, living their entire lives under a fraudulent identity, facing the extreme and often violent prejudice that trans people encounter on a daily basis?

Most men can't even remember when to put the bins out. It's a straw man, a distraction, a pure chimera. In many ways, it falls under the most literal definition of transphobia: an irrational fear of the other, based on ingrained prejudice and occasionally pure ignorance.'

Full analysis in The Independent

Sefu Sekgala, the head of the Polotiki Institute, says he has no doubt that the IAAF will try to concoct a scientific argument to defuse Semenya's speed.

Writing in the Sunday Independent , he notes that the challenge is that if you argue a humanity-issue scientifically, it will really be difficult to be consistent. 'Science is just being used as a cover-up for prejudice, racism, regionalism, homophobia and a form of superiority complex. Which are qualities of a barbarian. It is not Caster Semenya who needs help, but the IAAF. Why clip the wings of the most vulnerable? Their wings are all they have.'

Full report in The Sunday Independent

Meanwhile, Semenya has denied the South African Government paid R25m towards her hearing. I n a press statement, the double-Olympic 800m gold medal winner said while she has no knowledge of what was paid by the government to its legal and medical team 'in respect of its own case, my personal representation has been funded mainly by private funders and the portion funded by the government is a small fraction of the amount that has been quoted'.

A report on the EWN site notes that she also distanced herself from an online petition supporting her . 'I have no knowledge of and have no affiliation to this petition and it has not been sanctioned by me. I will not be receiving any of these funds and donors are advised accordingly. I am grateful for all the local and global support that I have received.'

Full report on the EWN site

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