Athletics

SA govt rallies behind Semenya over new gender rules

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Caster Semenya (AP)
Caster Semenya (AP)

Pretoria - The South African government on Friday threw its weight behind Olympic 800m champion Caster Semenya ahead of next week's landmark hearing against proposed rules that aim to restrict testosterone levels in female runners.

World track and field's governing body IAAF has proposed rules that would force so-called "hyperandrogenic" athletes or those with "differences of sexual development" (DSD) to lower their testosterone levels below a prescribed amount.

But Semenya, 800m Olympic champion in London and Rio and a three-time world champion, is challenging the legality of the rules in a case which will be heard at the Court of Arbitration (CAS) from Monday.

South Africa's Sports Minister Tokozile Xasa described the rules as "discriminatory" as she launched a campaign in support of hyperandrogenic athletes.

"These regulations appear to be specifically targeting Caster Semenya," she told a news conference.

"What's 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."

The government on Friday launched a campaign dubbed #NaturallySuperior in a bid to drum up international support.

"The world once declared apartheid as a crime against human rights. We once more call people of the world to stand with us as we fight what we believe is a gross violation of human rights," the minister said.

She called on individuals and organisations "intolerant of discrimination" to add their voices to a movement "that condemns these discriminatory IAAF regulations which in their nature seek to unfairly exclude other sections of society from competing in sport," she said.

The IAAF regulations, she said, could potentially deprive the world from seeing and experiencing the "natural superiority of future athletes" from Africa. 

The regulations were due to have been instituted in November 2018 but have been put on ice pending next week's hearings.

On Thursday, Semenya, 28, said she was "unquestionably a woman".

In a statement, her lawyers said Semenya "is a heroine and an inspiration to many around the world. She asks that she be respected and treated as any other athlete."

"Her genetic gift should be celebrated, not discriminated against".

As well as Semenya, the silver and bronze medallists in the 800m at the Rio Olympics, Francine Niyonsaba of Burundi and Kenya's Margaret Wambui, have also faced questions about their testosterone levels.

The sports minister said it was important "to reflect on what these regulations truly mean for the little girl growing up in an African village with dreams of becoming a top sportswoman."

Semenya's best 800m time of 1:54.25 puts her fourth on the all-time list. That time is a 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.

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