Tuesday, October 26

Caster Semenya: ‘They are killing sport. People want extraordinary performances’ | Caster Semenya


CAster Semenya should be angry, but she’s not. As the clock ticks towards the Tokyo Olympics, the South African should, like her rivals, be training for the urge to clinch a third consecutive gold medal.

Instead, the 30-year-old, who has battled a wave of prejudice and stigma throughout her life, sadly awaits news from the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), which, in turn, could convince World Athletics from being asked. taking medication may not be the most humane way to deal with a woman who has a congenital condition that some believe gives her an unfair advantage.

Semenya’s “crime”, in addition to dominating on the track, is that she is an athlete with differences in sexual development, a condition that leads to elevated levels of testosterone in the body. This led the athletics governing body to create a ruling in 2018, following its rapid rise to fame, prohibiting women of similar status from competing internationally between 400m and mile races, unless medication is administered; one option is to take a daily oral contraceptive. pill – is taken. Needless to say, Semenya will not stay in that lane.

“It is taking the soul out of my body,” he tells The Guardian by phone from South Africa. “They want me to take down my own system. I’m not sick. I don’t need drugs. I will never do that.”

As things stand, it seems highly unlikely that Semenya will queue for the 800m this summer, even if her case is decided favorably. The ECHR can only recommend World Athletics President Sebastian Coe to change tactics. No hand will be forced.

“The message is very simple,” says Semenya. “As a man, you should look into your [former] my wife’s eyes and tell her: ‘I gave you children. If someone were treating our children this way, what would their reaction be? You need to think like a human being, not like the president of an organization. “

Semenya is classified as an athlete with differences in sexual development (DSD). The IAAF, as World Athletics was then known, introduced a ban on these athletes from competing in women’s sport in 2018, a ruling upheld by both the Court of Sports Arbitration (Cas) in May 2019 and a subsequent court of appeal. . It prevented Semenya from defending his world championship title in Doha and it was a severe blow.

Appearing at 5,000m is an option for Semenya, although time is not on her side. She triumphed at the South African national championships last week, clocking in 15 minutes 52 seconds – 42 seconds below the Olympic qualifying standard of 15:10.

“I can run until 40 and at the moment I’m fast enough to try to improve,” she says, before insisting that the next world championship in 2023 is a realistic target for the 5,000 meters.

However, while the 200m has been ruled out, as far as your flagship event, the 800m is concerned, will you be an interested spectator if the worst happens? The answer is yes, albeit with skeptical eyes. “I will always watch the 800m,” says Semenya, who achieved a personal best of 1: 54.25 in 2018. “I want to see if these girls are capable of running what I’m running. But will they be below 1.55? Go.”

Caster Semenya (third from right) on his way to victory in the 5000m final at the South African Senior Athletics Championships held at the Tuks Athletics Stadium in Pretoria on April 15, 2021.
Caster Semenya (third from right) en route to victory in the 5,000m final at the South African Senior Championships in Athletics on April 15. Photograph: Phill Magakoe / AFP / Getty Images

The wait, the discussions, the accusations would be enough to alienate many from the sport. Semenya, however, is calm. “I trained like a slave to be the best,” she says. “I have seen Usain Bolt train. His training was insane and I am the same. My high testosterone levels are something I was born with, it is a disorder. However, it doesn’t make me the best. That’s where training and knowledge come in.

“Michael Phelps’s arms are wide enough that he can do whatever he wants. Swimmers’ lungs are different from other people’s. Basketball players like LeBron James are tall. If all tall players are prohibited from playing, will basketball be the same? Usain has incredible muscle fibers. Are they going to stop it too? My organs may be different and I may have a deep voice, but I am a woman. “

In announcing its ruling, the court agreed that IAAF policy was “discriminatory” for DSD athletes like Semenya. However, two of the three referees accepted the IAAF’s argument that high testosterone in female athletes confers significant advantages in size, strength and power from puberty onward, and said that the policy was, therefore, “necessary, reasonable and proportionate” to ensure fair competition in women’s sport.

Francine Niyonsaba, Caster Semenya and Margaret Nyairera Wambui
Caster Semenya (center) proudly displays his gold medal in the 800m at the Rio Olympics alongside silver winner Francine Niyonsaba (left) and bronze winner Margaret Nyairera Wambui. Photograph: Stoyan Nenov / Reuters

Semenya believes her legacy lives on and grows stronger with every nod of the powerful athletes. He says he is fighting for the Caster Semenyas of tomorrow, for those who have no voice.

He enjoys working and helping children in Pretoria, Polokwane and Soweto, while another passion is his running club, Masai, which he runs with his wife, Violet Raseboya. The Caster Semenya Foundation, formed in 2016 and focusing on education, will also keep it active for years to come.

“It’s very simple,” she says. “You must accept yourself, appreciate yourself and show the world. You need hope for life. You have to be positive “.

Retirement, when it comes, does not faze her. She anticipates running longer distances for at least another 10 years, but the impact on her body of attempting the 200m, for example, won’t do much for her longevity. However, his presence on the track will remain.

“I have achieved my goals,” he says. “Sure, I am an Olympic champion. I am a world champion and I have won important titles. So right now, we are trying to fix things for future generations because they are killing 800 million women.

Caster Semenya on track to win the women's 800m final at the 2016 Rio Olympics.
Caster Semenya stays focused as she races to gold in the women’s 800 meter final at the Rio Olympics. Photograph: Yoan Valat / EPA

“They are killing sport. People want to see extraordinary performances and if I were a leader, I would give people what they want. Now Seb Coe is doing it all about him. It has to act in the interest of all athletes, but now it wants to categorize us. You’re looking at a young athlete, one that the organization has tried to stop, and turned him into a politician. Just accept it and enjoy it. Their job is to fight corruption ”.

Semenya, in conjunction with the beauty brand Lux, has launched a public campaign entitled Born This Way, which urges women to “express their beauty and femininity without apology.” A request with the hashtag #IStandWithCaster it was also launched in hopes of swaying Coe’s mind.

Whatever happens, he says that he will try to continue fighting against prejudice and injustice. “Some children I have come across attempted suicide, others are survivors,” he says. “They cannot accept who they are. When you give birth to a boy, you cannot choose his path. Life is not an act. “

She has never met Coe, and has no plans to do so, but the conversation in her mind would be aimed at striking the Englishman to her heart. Semenya feels like she has been a goal of World Athletics. For her, the instant success that led her to gold in London 2012 and then Rio four years later fueled unfair accusations and recriminations.

“That’s it,” he says when asked about the reasons for the problems he has encountered over the years. “I am a young black African. I know where I come from. “

World Athletics, in response to Semenya’s comments, said it “rejects any claim that biological limits are based on stereotypes of race or gender.”

The Tokyo Games, if they continue, may not feature one of South Africa’s most famous athletes, but the force of change is already underway. Semenya has met many women with a condition similar to hers – “I can tell when I see them” – and knows, unlike her, that they do not have the platform to express their distress.

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“The regulations are not directed at any particular athlete, but are designed to preserve the integrity of the women’s category,” said World Athletics, pointing to the fact that in the 800m final at the 2019 World Championships in Doha , Halimah Nakaayi from Uganda won the gold, beating three other African women in the final. “We have seen in a decade and more of research that approximately 7.1 out of every 1,000 elite athletes in our sport are DSD athletes with very high levels of testosterone in the male range.”

However, Semenya continues throughout life. She recently became a mother, her daughter’s name remains a kept secret for now, but thoughts quickly turn to how to explain this sports saga when the time comes. “It will be difficult,” he says. “She will be confused and think how can a person try to cut someone’s career?”

It is clear that Semenya feels that many have tried, but she will not walk away quietly. And why should she?


www.theguardian.com

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