Eyes are on South African athlete, Caster Semenya as she seeks to have a controversial International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) gender rule set aside, in a case that is before the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) in Zurich, Switzerland.
The case kicked-off on Monday this week and would be keenly followed over the coming weeks, with a decision due on March 29.
Last year, the IAAF took a decision to regulate testosterone levels in female athletes.
Under the IAAF rule, female athletes with naturally high testosterone levels would have to race against men or change events unless they take medication to reduce it.
Affected athletes must take medication for six months and then maintain a lower testosterone level. The rule was supposed to kick-in last November, but Semenya and Athletics South Africa’s (ASA) legal challenge, prompted a delay. Local officials have thrown their weight behind the 800m athlete. Southern African Athletics president, Moses Bantsi said the IAAF decision came as a shock to them.
“This decision should apply to all athletes, in all events. It should not be selective like it is right now. It is clear that it is targeting a certain individual,” he said.Bantsi added that the rule is discriminatory. He said other continents have been dominating athletics and now that Africa is starting to raise its hand, something crops up.
“Africa depends on IAAF for funding. When we go for elections, Africans vote for other candidates. We have 54 countries in the continent, but when we go for IAAF elections, our candidates get less votes,” he said.
Bantsi said maybe people are scared of biting the hand that feeds them. He said the continent would take a decision during the Confederation of African Athletics (CAA) congress slated for Ivory Coast in April.
“We are now scared that Africa might lose all seats in the IAAF board including that of the vice president. We intend to seek re-election in that post,” Bantsi said.
IAAF elections will be held during the World Championships in Doha in September.
University of Botswana senior lecturer (sport and exercise psychology), Dr Tshepang Tshube said the new rule was a form of discrimination. “African athletes have been targets of racial discrimination and other similar
“The IAAF eligibility regulation discriminates female athletes whose levels of circulating testosterone (in serum) are five mol/l or above, in recent history, it has been Africans or black athletes.”
He said it is therefore important for Africans to step up and support Semenya to fight the discrimination. He added that track and field events should be inclusive to all, regardless of sex. Tshube said the IAAF rule brings fear and uncertainty to a lot of young athletes.
“It is no longer enough to be female. The eligibility, sex and gender would be subject to approval by IAAF, which challenges athletes’ identity. It is humiliating to athletes for IAAF to question their gender identity in public and some athletes may opt out of sport completely in fear of humiliation,” he said.
Tshube said IAAF should not temper with natural processes and should champion inclusive track and field environments.
International Working Group on Women and Sport (IWG) board member, Game Mothibi said the petition that was signed by different countries during the conference that was held in Gaborone last year was meant to put pressure on IAAF on the gender rule.
“We wanted IAAF to withdraw the policy and not go through legal battles with athletes. This is the second athlete put through this by the IAAF on the same issue,” she said.
Mothibi said they believe the process of CAS is emotionally and financially draining for athletes. She said they believed a strong petition, signed by different women and sport bodies, would put the needed pressure on the IAAF.
“We also allowed the South African delegates at the IWG conference to lead a petition on the same. However, all these did not get IAAF to withdraw the rule,” Mothibi said.
She stated that they continue to stand by Semenya and would follow the case through out. Mothibi said they believe Semenya has a strong case against IAAF and they hope for a positive outcome.