CAPE TOWN – At long last! After days of gnashing of teeth and a massive outcry from the local sporting community, Athletics South Africa have finally taken action and will challenge the new IAAF regulations for female classification that directly affects Caster Semenya.
But what took them so long?
ASA released a statement on Thursday morning, exactly a week after the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) announced that they would require female athletes competing in distances from the 400m to the mile and who have elevated levels of testosterone to take medication to lower those levels if they want to continue in those events.
The regulations will take effect in November this year.
But the new laws – dubbed ‘Caster Semenya Rules’ – are regarded by many as a direct attempt to sideline SA superstar Semenya, who has added the 1 500m and 400m to her regular 800m discipline in recent months.
The 27-year-old claimed gold in the 800m and 1 500m at the Commonwealth Games last month.
Semenya has maintained a dignified silence on the IAAF regulations since last week, only issuing a few cryptic messages on social media, before addressing the matter for the first time on Tuesday when she posted: “God made me the way I am and I accept myself. I am who I am and I am proud of myself. Caster Semenya”
So, why did it take ASA an entire week to respond? Yes, they had to consult with the Sports Minister Tokozile Xasa, Sascoc and “various expert institutions and other relevant organisations and individuals” – and there were two public holidays – but the seriousness of the matter required them to step in immediately.
In fact, it was Xasa who came out with a strongly-worded message, saying that the rulings were “sexist, racial and homophobic”, and that Semenya was a “pathfinder to the rural poor and downtrodden… and an affirmation of black excellence”.
That was followed by Tuks Professor Steve Cornelius resigning from the IAAF disciplinary tribunal in protest of what he described as the “warped ideology” behind the new regulations.
In fact, even Indian sprinter Dutee Chand – who won her court case against a previous IAAF ruling on female classification – offered her legal team to assist Semenya.
At least Athletics SA were decisive in their Thursday statement by declaring the regulations “skewed”, and that they would approach the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) if the IAAF “do not change their minds on this new rule after this engagement”.
ASA’s initial comment last week was cautious as they sought “support” from the Minister and Sascoc on how to handle the matter.
But it should’ve been different. They needed to shout from the rooftops that they would not allow the IAAF to bully Semenya into a corner to effectively “dope” to “level the playing fields”, as their president Sebastian Coe referred to the regulations.
Athletics South Africa didn’t cover themselves in glory when the first controversy surrounded an 18-year-old Semenya in 2009 after she won gold in the 800m at the world championships in Berlin.
Then-ASA president Leonard Chuene was eventually fired after lying about Semenya having to undergo a gender test before the world championships.
It is concerning that the local athletics governing body said at the end of their statement on Thursday that they will not be making any further comments on the matter until further notice.
The new regulations are set to be enforced in November.
With Semenya starting her international season on Friday evening at the Doha Diamond League, fans will hope that ASA will fight for her, and that there isn’t a repeat of the 2009 indifference.
There has been a long-running battle between ASA and athletes on a number of fronts over many years, particularly with regards to strange selection criteria for big events and financial support.
Thus, the Semenya saga is a chance for ASA to prove that they ultimately exist to serve the athletes, and not vice versa...