South African parliament rallies behind Caster

Caster Semenya (AP)
Caster Semenya (AP)

Johannesburg - South Africa's parliament threw its weight behind Olympic champion Caster Semenya on Thursday as she awaits a landmark ruling on whether female athletes can be required to lower their testosterone.

Semenya last week went to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) in Lausanne to challenge the International Association of Athletics Federations' (IAAF) proposed rules forcing "hyper-androginous" athletes to lower their testosterone.

WATCH: Caster features in powerful all-female new Nike ad

MPs from across the political spectrum wore black golf T-shirts with messages of support including "we say NO to stigmatisation of women in sport", and "we oppose subtle hatred".

"Others arrive and say they want to give her drugs in order that she can't compete," chair of parliament's sport and recreation committee Beauty Dlulane told the chamber in Cape Town.

"We already have a huge drug problem among South African youth," she added. 

Opposition National Freedom Party lawmaker Nhlanhlakayise Khubisa said "what is happening to Caster is the worst form of racism".

"(It's the) practice of patriarchy and chauvinism.

"She is being crucified for being an excelling, resilient, unwavering and unmatched athlete - our creme de la creme."  

United Democratic Movement MP Nqabayomzi Kwankwa said a scientific excuse was being used to "dumb down" Semenya's successes. 

The opposition Inkatha Freedom Party called on African athletes to boycott any future IAAF events if the "unfair ruling" was allowed to stand.

Semenya's best 800m time of 1:54.25 seconds puts her fourth on the list of all-time fastest competitors.

It is almost one second slower than the world record of 1:53.28 set in 1983 by Jarmila Kratochvilova, which is now widely discredited because of Soviet-era doping.

The IAAF regulations were due to have been instituted in November 2018 but have been put on ice pending the outcome of last week's hearings.

The ruling is expected on March 26.

Below is their statement:

"As the people of South Africa today are aware, the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) has re-introduced regulations that seek to prevent athletes with hyperandrogenism to participate in the female athletics categories. Their intention is to force these athletes to take medication, to reduce the levels of testosterone in their bodies or be forced to compete with men.

"The South African government is opposed to these regulations as they seek to punish athletes who are endowed with physical traits, attributes and abilities, naturally, and subject them to medical procedures that seek to alter who they are. We believe that this is tantamount to modernising barbarism and is indeed an attempt at civilising cruelty as well as making discriminatory practices acceptable in a world that should be steeped in a human rights culture.   

"Based on this, we are firmly opposed to these new regulations of the IAAF. We had lent support to the case of Ms. Mokgadi Caster Semenya, our own citizen and our people's 'Golden Girl'. We have also supported Athletics South Africa (ASA) to stand up to the might of the IAAF. Government had appointed a High Level Panel to coordinate our response to these regulations and the work was divided into three work streams, namely, the medical, the legal and the social mobilisation.

"Subsequently, we had subsequently presented our case to the Court for Arbitration for Sport (CAS) in Lausanne, Switzerland in the past week (February 18-22, 2019). We are cautiously optimistic that we have mounted and presented a formidable challenge to these discriminatory regulations. As a nation we remain indebted to both the Legal and Medical team that worked tirelessly to ensure we have a winnable case. These are patriots of our country that must be celebrated.

"To us, in the sports and human-rights communities, the case is not only about the human rights of our Golden Girl - Caster Semenya, also about that of many other young athletes who might not have a voice. Caster Semenya herself attests to this reality when she aptly put it to the world that: "Its not about me anymore. It's about the African girls who come from the rural areas who do not believe that they can do this..."

"We couldn't agree more with her. Our analysis indicates that these regulations are targeted at the sub-codes of athletics in which African athletes participate and are dominant in. These includes applicability to the 400m to mile (including 400m hurdles races), 800m and 1 500m. We do not believe that it is a coincidence that these are the races Caster Semenya participate and generally dominates. We actually believe that the regulations were designed to exclude her from participation and formulated purposefully to be this discriminatory against her. Left unopposed and unattended, they have the potential to deprive the world from seeing and experiencing the full participation of future athletes to come from our African soils.

"Owing to this injustice, the South African Government launched a social mobilisation and international solidarity campaign aptly entitled #NaturallySuperior to oppose the regulations and to drum up support for the athletes that will be affected by these regulations. The campaign sought to highlight the injustice these regulations will visit upon athletes such as Caster Semenya and also sought to educate the public on the key issues around the case.

"The campaign was positively responded to overwhelmingly by the public, and it called for action in  the public participating by signing an online petition on the matter and in sending messages of support to Caster as well as messages of opposition to the IAAF regulations. People, organisations, corporates, media from all persuasions of life, embraced the call and celebrated the natural superiority of Caster and the physical traits, attributes and abilities that God has endowed upon her.

"Accordingly, what is at stake here is far more than the right to participate in a sport. Women's bodies, their wellbeing, their ability to earn a livelihood, their very identity, their privacy and sense of safety and belonging in the world, are being questioned. This is a gross violation of internationally accepted standards of human rights law.

"It is for this reason that the Special Rapporteurs and the Working Group who are part of the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council (with special procedures being the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system) having written to the President of the IAAF questioning the regulations and the accompanying potential human rights violations. In the same breadth, the Women's Sport Foundation has also characterised these proposed regulations as: "... exacerbating discrimination against women in sport who are perceived as not prescribing to normative ideas about femininity..."

"We therefore call upon all members of this house to be on the right side of history. We urge all of us as representatives of the people of South Africa to openly declare to the whole world to know that, 'WE ARE CASTER AND CASTER IS US'."

"We urge all political parties to endorse the campaign #NaturallySuperior, and to continue to lobby the world to stand firm against these regulations. It is expected that the CAS will give its ruling at the end of March 2019 or soon thereafter. We should seek to ensure that the South African voice is clearly heard until this ruling is made and our call to the rest of humanity to take a stand against discriminatory practices and subtle racism, wherever and whenever it rears its ugly head."

We live in a world where facts and fiction get blurred
In times of uncertainty you need journalism you can trust. For only R75 per month, you have access to a world of in-depth analyses, investigative journalism, top opinions and a range of features. Journalism strengthens democracy. Invest in the future today.
Subscribe to News24
Voting Booth
What is your favourite sport to watch on TV?
Please select an option Oops! Something went wrong, please try again later.
42% - 9932 votes
11% - 2665 votes
19% - 4489 votes
2% - 590 votes
1% - 220 votes
2% - 550 votes
5% - 1174 votes
8% - 1982 votes
3% - 804 votes
Water sports
1% - 212 votes
American sports
1% - 294 votes
3% - 761 votes