JOHANNESBURG – IAAF president Seb Coe considers Caster Semenya as a threat to women’s sport, but the South African believes she is a role model for girls across the world.
Semenya’s fight with the IAAF continues unabated even as the Court of Arbitration for Sports (CAS) deliberates and is expected to rule on the international athletics body’s female eligibility policy next month.
Coe has found himself in the cross-hairs with Semenya after telling the Australian Daily Telegraph at the weekend that she was a threat to female sport.
“Mr Coe is wrong to think Ms Semenya is a threat to women’s sport,” Semenya’s law firm Norton Rose Fulbright countered on Tuesday. “Ms Semenya is a heroine and inspirational role model for girls around the world who dream of achieving excellence in sport.
“Ms Semenya hopes and dreams that one day she can run free of judgment, free of discrimination and in a world where she is accepted for who she is.”
The world athletics body’s controversial regulations would require women with naturally elevated levels of testosterone to lower it to below 5 nanomoles for at least six months.
This would only affect athletes competing in events from 400m to 1 600m, which were events Semenya excelled in on the global stage.
“Reading the comments of Mr Coe this weekend opened those old wounds and the reference by the Daily Telegraph (Australia) to “the muscle-packed Semenya” is just the latest illustration of how the issues have been distorted by innuendo,” Norton Rose Fulbright said.
“Ms Semenya is a woman. There is no debate or question about this and the IAAF does not dispute this.”
Norton Rose Fulbright said Coe’s comments that a victory for Semenya would change women’s sport conflated the issue with that of the transgender athletes.
“It is a very, very simple principle: it’s the protection of fair competition and fair play,” Coe told the Australian Daily Telegraph. “The reason we have gender classifications is because if you didn’t then no woman would ever win another title or another medal or break another record in our sport.”
The first attacks on Semenya came in 2009 in Australian newspapers. Norton Rose Fulbright said Coe’s comments had opened old wounds.
“After winning the 800m final the next day, Ms Semenya stood in the middle of the stadium knowing that everyone watching the event was judging her.
“She was 18. The nature of the intrusive medical examinations that Semenya was subjected to following the event was discussed publicly, including by the IAAF.”
The lawyers said Semenya refused to “undergo medical intervention to change who she is and how she was born”.
Semenya and her legal team said they were fighting for the rights of athletes with differences in sexual development (DSD) to compete and argued they should be celebrated for their natural abilities.
“She wants to compete naturally. Women with DSD are born with rare genetic differences.
“These differences should be celebrated in sports like all other genetic variations that make elite events worth watching,” her lawyers said.@ockertde