Caster Semenya to women athletes: 'Build your own brand - men won't do it'

2018-11-01 14:40
Caster Semenya (AP)

Caster Semenya (AP)

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Olympic gold medallist Caster Semenya said women athletes should know their worth and build their brands themselves.

"We need to transform ourselves. Men won't do it – they want to lead. We need to prove them wrong," Semenya told delegates at the Discovery Leadership Summit held in Sandton on Thursday.

Dressed in a tailored pink suit and blue shirt and wearing a gold pendant in the shape of Africa, Semenya charmed the capacity crowd with her well-timed quips and honest replies to questions from interviewer Redi Tlhabi.

Semenya said she knew from age four that she wanted to be great at sports.

"But I never thought I could touch the lives of boys and girls [through sports]."

'Work hard and fight'

Semenya's advice to young athletes was to work hard and fight for what they wanted, and that knowledge and education were important.  

"I was not prepared for university," Semenya said. "I didn't have the confidence to speak to these Model C kids, you know? They were going to laugh at me…

"But, of course, you learn – every day is a learning curve."

Semenya said this challenge helped her become a better person and taught her to show love and respect to people, and to be less judgmental.

"A human is not defined by how they look, but by how they rise, how they treat people.

"That's how I want to be defined," Semenya said.

Tlhabi recalled a moment when Semenya reached out to a fellow athlete after winning a race and was snubbed.

'I'm a crazy creature!'

Semenya shrugged.

"I'm a crazy creature!" she said to laughter.

 "But seriously, on the track, it's a temporary feeling. Off the track, we are just people.

"Everyone wants to win, but we don't make it personal.

"I understand this as a human, I studied psychology, I know why athletes react like that."

Tlhabi then navigated the conversation to the IAAF regulation requiring athletes with differences of sexual development to lower their natural testosterone levels to race internationally.

"This is not about me. I achieved what I wanted. I broke records," Semenya replied.  

"But what about the next generation? What about those girls that still want to run? Their dreams will be shattered. Enough is enough…"

'I wanted to piss off the IAAF'

Referring to the IAAF, Semenya said she wanted to "piss them off a bit". The audience laughed. 

"I wanted to show them that what they're doing makes no sense."

READ: IAAF gender rules killing next generation - Caster

Semenya said it was hard to find support among fellow athletes.

"We tend to be scared to challenge [the IAAF] because of what we can lose. There are a few that will stand up for you. There are a few who will support you fully."

Semenya said there was too much focus on top athletes and not enough on development.

"We forget there are young boys and girls that need to be supported and developed – not only in sports, but also by developing skills."

'Know your worth'

On the issue of equal pay for women athletes, Semenya said women should empower themselves by building their own brands.

"It's all about building the brand.

"It's about knowing your worth. I've been doing this for 10 years. I know who I want to be associated with. I'm a tough cookie.

"My advice to fellow sportspeople is – know your worth. Be patient."

Speaking about her wife, Violet, Semenya said: "She is everything to me. She's the pillar of my life. She's the one who pushes me. I can't live without her…"

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