South Africa: On WPFD GL Urges Caster Semenya to Appeal

press release

On World Press Freedom Day, Gender Links (GL) urges Caster Semenya to exercise #VoiceandChoice by appealing the court ruling that would force her to change her natural state in order to continue competing in sport. GL further urges the South African government, which has so far been conspicuous for its silence on the adverse court ruling, to support Semenya in this appeal.

"At stake is far more than a brilliant athlete and her career," said GL CEO Colleen Lowe Morna. "At stake are all the values that South Africa is celebrating in its 25th anniversary of freedom. These include the right to bodily integrity, freedom from discrimination and violence as well as freedom of speech and association. If we fail to stand up for these values, we will betray our hard-earned democracy."

Semenya has thirty days within which to decide whether she will appeal the ruling by the Court of Arbitration for Sport's (CAS) decision to uphold the new International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) rules forcing female athletes to take suppressive treatment if they wish to compete as females in certain events.

GL finds this grossly discriminatory and potentially setting a dangerous precedent that will undermine women's Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights. Semenya is being publicly forced to morph her body so that she can fit into a narrow heteronormative understanding of what makes up a woman. This judgement also puts Semenya in the invidious position of having to choose between her livelihood and her bodily integrity.

We accept that fairness is of fundamental importance to any organised sports genre. It is clearly wrong for athletes to use performance-enhancing substances to have an added advantage. However, Semenya's, testosterone levels are a natural part of her being. Sports stars are by definition stars because they have natural advantages.

"Are tall people now going to be banned from playing basket- ball, or people with long legs banned from long jump? Or is this a case of sexism and racism of the worst kind that must be called out and challenged?" Lowe-Morna asked.

"The scientific evidence is open to contestation; the targeting of the particular track fields in which Semenya excels is suspect; and the forcing of anyone to change their natural state in order to compete defies the very notion of human rights," she added.

While South Africa must lead the march in the challenge, Gender Links urges Athlete Ally and the Women's Sports Foundation who wrote an open letter to the IAAF to revoke the hyperandrogenism regulations, to give the appeal their full backing. The 60 signatories include India's Dutee Chand -- who had successfully challenged IAAF's regulation at the CAS in 2015, Asian Games gold medalist Pinki Pramanik, former India Olympian Ashwini Nachappa and US women's World Cup winner and Olympic gold medallist Abby Wambach.

As South Africa transitions from freedom day (27 April) to press freedom day (3 May) and on to Africa Day 25 May, Gender Links calls on all South Africans to elevate a court defeat to victory by celebrating and defending diversity.

"I sit in meetings of the Southern African Development Community, the African Union and the United Nations in which homophobia is ubiquitous, and South African government officials choose to remain silent. I hear young women who are fed up with the status quo -- with the conspiracy of silence that surrounds sexual orientation, gender identity and expression -- and also with the hypocrisy that support for our "golden girl" reeks of," wrote Lowe-Morna in the Mail and Guardian last year.

"Prior to her leap into the media frenzy, Semenya was just an 18-year-old girl from Limpopo who liked to run. She chose not to adhere to the socially accepted roles of how women should behave. Semenya did not fit the mould -- in fact, she broke it, just as she broke records.

"Imagine if, after all this, Semenya not only continues her formidable run to the top but also if all girls from poor rural communities could be who they wanted to be.

"Imagine if every girl could follow her dream, take a bow and describe her nation as the wind beneath her sails. Imagine if we had an open mind to what gender means. Imagine if we nailed our colours to the mast and practised the diversity we preach. Only then could we truly claim to be championing our golden girl."

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