CAPE TOWN – The fight to have Caster Semenya cleared to compete in the 800m again will take on a double barrage at a European court after Athletics South Africa lodged their own application this week.
In a meeting with Parliament’s sports portfolio committee on Tuesday, the local governing body revealed that they have submitted a second application to the European Court of Human Rights, based in Strasbourg, France, which is empowered to investigate any violations of the European Convention on Human Rights.
Athletics SA’s (ASA) lawyer, Dev Maharaj, explained to the parliamentary committee that the decision to lodge their own application to the court was complementary to Semenya’s own personal case, which is seeking to overturn World Athletics regulations governing DSD (differences in sexual development) female athletes.
These regulations have prevented Semenya from running in her favourite 800m race since 2019, and now her hopes of defending her Olympic title in Tokyo is hanging by a thread.
While it is unclear whether this European court will be able to make a decision before the athletics competition is scheduled to start at the Tokyo Olympics, on July 30, Semenya is hoping that she can still make it on to the track in Japan.
“ASA decided rather than being an intervening, subsidiary party, we felt this is an important issue that needed to be tackled head-on, and we have also yesterday filed an application directly with the European Court of Human Rights,” Maharaj said.
“I have no doubt that Ms Semenya has raised various violations of her human rights, and Athletics SA have taken the stance that we would also raise those issues – but in addition, we would attack the basis upon which the regulations were formulated.
“We would be attacking the technical aspects of the studies that were conducted. We will be attacking the ethical issues relating to the studies conducted. We view our attack as being complementary to the human rights issues that will be raised.
“We expect that the IAAF (now World Athletics) will intervene – they have to intervene – and it may well be that other entities may also intervene in this case.
“Usually, cases in the European court are decided on documentation that has been filed, but we are rather hopeful that given the seriousness of this matter, and the number of interested parties worldwide, that this case will actually be given an oral hearing.
“Parties will be able to ventilate their submissions, as opposed to us simply relying on judges to read selectively, I must say, and come to a decision that is not properly motivated.
“We are hoping that, given the international flavour of this matter, and the huge ramifications that it has, that we will be given an audience to state our cases before the full court.”
Semenya’s manager, Becky Motumo, also presented the athlete’s plan to mobilise public support for the cause, which will encapsulate social media campaigns and even a gala dinner to generate much-needed funding for the Caster Semenya Foundation and her case.
While one of Semenya’s lawyers from Norton Rose Fulbright, Patrick Bracher, pointed out that the firm were doing the case on a pro bono basis, the funds were also required for overseas legal representatives.
Motumo said that T-shirts with Semenya’s favourite phrases, such as ‘Doors might be closed but not locked’, ‘Man can change the rules but cannot rule my life’ and
‘I make 800m, 800m doesn’t make me’ will be printed and sold to the public, while the hashtags #Youcantstopus #IStandWithCaster #Caster800m #LetCasterRun will be used on social media.
The target for the campaign is R1 million, and is set to be launched in April.
Deputy Sports Minister Nocawe Mafu and portfolio committee chairperson Beauty Dlulani pledged their support for the campaign and Semenya’s case, while Athletics SA president Aleck Skhosana was hopeful of a change in thinking at World Athletics.
“We will submit a report to World Athletics later this month with serious propositions and recommendations. There should be gender parity – that is what we have raised at World Athletics – and there should be gender parity and even a woman president… it should not be a boys’ club, taking decisions,” Skhosana told the committee.
“Currently, Caster has tried to do the 200 metres, but I think she has decided again to go back to a longer distance, longer than 3 000m – 5 000m to try to qualify for the Olympics, which is much better for her if the ruling favours her, to go back to the 800m.”