LAUSANNE – South Africa’s sports minister accused the IAAF on Thursday of seeking to violate women’s bodies, as she visited Switzerland to back Caster Semenya’s fight against proposals to restrict female athletes’ testosterone levels.
Semenya, a double Olympic 800 metres champion, has appealed to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) in Lausanne to challenge the rules proposed by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF).
South Africa’s Sports Minister Tokozile Xasa said her trip to the Alpine nation was aimed at offering support to her compatriot Semenya, as the week-long hearing draws to a close.
But she also doubled-down on criticism of the IAAF, which has argued the proposed rules are necessary to create a “level playing field” for other female athletes.
“We are talking (about) violations of women’s bodies – where women have to explain themselves for how they appear in the eyes of (others),” Xasa said.
“It is not just about South Africa... (or) the participation of women in sport,” she added, stressing that fundamental human rights issues were at stake in the hearing.
The controversial measures would force so-called “hyperandrogenic” athletes or those with “differences of sexual development” (DSD) to seek treatment to lower their testosterone levels below a prescribed amount, if they wish to continue competing as women in events from the 400m to the mile.
Xasa said she had been asked to carry a message to Semenya from South African President Cyril Ramaphosa.
“Remember you are great. Remember that you are a symbol that constantly reminds us that nothing beats the enduring power of human spirit,” Xasa quoted the president as saying.
“We want to make sure that you don’t feel alone,” she added.
Minister Xasa at Switzerland to support Caster Semenya & Athletics South Africa. “We are here to support our Golden Girl and to appreciate our legal and Medical team” @SonjicaS @EWNsport @Veli_Mbuli @robertmarawa @SPORTAT10TV @TokozileXasa @MYANC @SPORTandREC_RSA @eNCA pic.twitter.com/uhzpy5Zf9t— VuyoMhaga (@mhagav) February 21, 2019
Semenya stood at the back of the room as Xasa spoke, and did not address the media.
Many South Africans have thrown their weight behind Semenya in the media and online.
Last week, the government launched a campaign dubbed #NaturallySuperior in a bid to drum up international support for Semenya’s fight against the rules, which they have labelled “discriminatory”.
"South Africa is a rainbow nation for me and I stand for my country, I stand for my people, I stand for people who love and support me. They appreciate me for who I am. It's fantastic."#CasterSemenya— Dep. Sport & Rec (@SPORTandREC_RSA) February 20, 2019
Indeed we do. We standby #Caster.#NaturallySuperior#HandsoffCaster pic.twitter.com/mZhBNlCLMq
Xasa was wearing a T-shirt that said “we oppose IAAF regulations”, and voiced hope the message would help drive the global campaign.
The track and field body has said that DSD athletes that have male levels of testosterone can have clear advantages in bone and muscle size and strength, and would therefore have an unfair edge over their competitors.
Semenya is not the only athlete potentially affected by the new rules – the two athletes who finished behind her in the Rio Olympics 800m, Francine Niyonsaba of Burundi and Kenya’s Margaret Wambui, have also faced questions about their testosterone levels.
A judgement in the case is expected by the end of March.
Legal brains behind the ASA case. Here to say thank you pic.twitter.com/8ipH1WaExe— VuyoMhaga (@mhagav) February 21, 2019