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Actions against Caster Semenya an ’injustice and violation of human rights’

South Africa 800m Olympic champion Caster Semenya is fighting her battles with a smile. Picture Phill Magakoe/AFP

South Africa 800m Olympic champion Caster Semenya is fighting her battles with a smile. Picture Phill Magakoe/AFP

Published Nov 18, 2020


CAPE TOWN - Caster Semenya’s never-say-die spirit has been an inspiration to South Africans and others around the world, and now she is continuing her fight for human rights.

The double Olympic champion announced via her lawyer, Greg Nott, on Tuesday that she will again be challenging World Athletics’ rules that have prevented her and other female athletes with differences in sexual development (DSD) from competing in races ranging in distance from the 400m to the mile.

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Semenya lost her last appeal against the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) in the Federal Supreme Court of Switzerland in September.

The regulations – which require DSD athletes to take medication or undergo surgery to lower their naturally occurring testosterone levels to participate in events from the 400m to the mile – means that as things stand, the 29-year-old will not be able to defend her 800m title at the 2021 Tokyo Olympics.

Following her last appeal, Semenya tweeted that she wasn’t about to give up: “Chills my people. A man can change the rules, but the very same man can not rule my life. What I’m saying is that I might have failed against them, the truth is that I have won this battle long ago. Go back to my achievements, then you will understand. Doors might be closed, not locked.”

Now the time has come to take the matter further. Nott said in a statement yesterday that Semenya will be taking World Athletics to the European Court of Human Rights, which sits in Strasbourg, France.

“We are hoping to submit our papers at the start of next year. Ms Semenya hopes to see these rules declared invalid, not just so that she may compete, but so that the human rights of athletes around the world are protected,” Nott told Independent Media yesterday.

“We will argue that the rules implemented by World Athletics are a violation of Ms Semenya’s human rights.

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“The increasing number of institutions that have shown their support for Ms Semenya reinforces that it is not acceptable to require a black, or any other woman, to either have invasive surgery or unethical hormonal treatment to curtail natural biological functions, to compete.

“We remain inspired by Ms Semenya’s indomitable spirit, and will remain steadfast in our stand against discrimination until she is allowed to run free from persecution.”

Asked if Semenya is still considering participating in the 200m at the Olympics – an event not affected by the regulations – Nott said: “Ms Semenya is training to compete. More than that, we cannot comment on at this time.”

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Semenya had also expressed her thanks for support from Parliament and the SA Human Rights Commission, as well as the SA Commission for Gender Equality.

“The South African Parliament passed a Motion Without Notice – tabled by the African National Congress – which not only condemns the actions of World Athletics against Ms Semenya as an “injustice and violation of human rights”, but also resolves that Parliament will do “everything in (their) power” to assist Ms Semenya in her fight for justice and equality,” Nott said.

“We greatly appreciate the support of the Parliament of South Africa, the highest legislative body in South Africa, and commend their willingness to take action by resolving to help protect the rights of a fellow South African.

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“Further, all African human rights commissions have endorsed their support for Mokgadi Caster Semenya. This follows on from the resolution taken by the UN Human Rights Council on 21 March 2019 which recognised that black women are repeatedly discriminated against in sports across the globe.

“The support of the Human Rights Commissions on the continent is invaluable, and we especially thank the South African Human Rights Commission and the South African Commission for Gender Equality for leading the fight.

“We hope that the support of our fellow Africans, as shown at the sitting of the 67th session of the African Commission for Human and People Rights, will see a similar endorsement being given by the Global Alliance of Human Rights Commissions.”


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Caster Semenya