IAAF chief puts his foot in his mouth over Semenya – again

IAAF President Sebastian Coe. Picture:Supplied/ Getty Images
IAAF President Sebastian Coe. Picture:Supplied/ Getty Images

IAAF president Sebastian Coe illustrated once again that, as much as he claims to be driving fairness in women’s track and field competitions, he has little regard for Caster Semenya.

This week, Coe unashamedly admitted to CNN World Sport anchor Amanda Davies that he hadn’t spoken to Semenya directly, despite the high-profile nature of the case.

Just how Coe was seconded for another term in world athletics’ highest office boggles the mind as he has failed dismally in handling a basic human rights issue.

The Brit will this week stand for re-election unopposed, meaning that African athletes will continue to be at the mercy of his policies, which trample over their dignity.

Some of his prohibitive policies are hidden behind science designed to bar athletes such as Semenya from competing.

It doesn’t take rocket science to figure out who has been most affected by the IAAF regulations going into the World Athletics Championships in Doha.

All of the 800m women’s champions from South Africa, Kenya and Burundi (Semenya, Margaret Wambui and Francine Niyonsaba, respectively) have been deprived of a chance to potentially add another global medal to their collections.

A lot has been written about the Semenya-IAAF legal battle, but the most common conclusion around the debate has been in favour of the athlete.

Patricia Palacios Zuloaga, a lecturer at the University of Essex School of Law in England, ranks among the brave individuals in influential positions who incisively unpacked the complex topic.

Like some of us, Zuloaga was one of the first few people who sensed that the IAAF’s rules on gender eligibility were nothing less than a targeted strike against Semenya.

Often, we always plead for Africans to tell their own stories. Zuloaga is not African, but she nailed it in her interpretation of an African story through her opinion piece that was published on her blog in May last year.

She wrote that “we cannot understand this situation without taking into account that Caster Semenya, undoubtedly the public face of hyperandrogenism in women’s athletics, is a black African woman”.

Caster Semenya. Picture: Alet Pretorius/Gallo Images

“She is also queer and unapologetically butch. She shows little interest in performing femininity to the standard expected of middle-distance runners, hence the suspicion of her competitors that she is not, in fact, a ‘real woman’. Or, at least, she is not close enough to our understanding of womanhood to be allowed to run against other women,” Zuloaga wrote.

“We must note that the evaluation of feminine aesthetics is often based on Caucasian beauty standards, which many elite 800m runners do conform to.

“Add to this that studies have shown that white observers perceive black bodies to be larger and more threatening than white bodies.

“Add to this that queer and butch women have historically been understood to aspire to masculinity.

“The result is that Caster Semenya fails the social test of femininity and has thus become the target of a campaign to remove her from the sport.”

Read: Caster Semenya: How to define a woman

Semenya has been forced to take up soccer as an alternative, joining the JVW Football Club, although she promised she had unfinished business in athletics.

Sadly, the athletic championships will take off in Doha on Friday without her there to defend her title against perennial rivals Wambui and Niyonsaba, who would have lined up in the 800m first round at the Khalifa International Stadium in the Qatari capital.

The trio refused to take medication to compete, as per the IAAF’s diabolical terms and conditions.

Why on earth should someone who is born with a certain condition be forced to take drugs that alter their natural state of being?

These are nonsensical decisions that will for the longest time define Coe’s legacy in his spell at the helm of the IAAF.

One thing is certain, Coe has not endeared himself to the majority of Africans, if not the entire continent.

. daniel.mothowagae@citypress.co.za

. Follow me on Twitter @daniemothowagae


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