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Don’t weep for Caster Semenya, says Porbeni

By Gowon Akpodonor
02 May 2019   |   3:10 am
There was the luminous smile she wore on the medals stand in August 2016, when Caster Semenya won the 800m gold medal at the Rio Olympics amidst grumbles by other female competitors, who felt she shouldn’t have been allowed to complete due to the high level of testosterone in her hormones. And then came the…


There was the luminous smile she wore on the medals stand in August 2016, when Caster Semenya won the 800m gold medal at the Rio Olympics amidst grumbles by other female competitors, who felt she shouldn’t have been allowed to complete due to the high level of testosterone in her hormones.

And then came the moment of weeping and distraught face for the South African athlete yesterday when the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) rejected her challenge against the IAAF’s new rules, which will be allowed to restrict testosterone levels in female runners.

After the verdict yesterday, Semenya, who has won the Olympic 800m title twice and the IAAF world title three times said: “For a decade the IAAF has tried to slow me down, but this has actually made me stronger. The decision of CAS will not hold me back. I will once again rise above this and continue to inspire young women and athletes in South Africa and around the world.”

However, former Nigerian jumper, hurdler and sprinter, Seigha Porbeni is of the opinion that Semenya is not in any way victimized by the CAS judgment delivered yesterday.

“We don’t need to weep for Semenya,” Porbeni told The Guardian. “I will advise Semenya to accept her fate and challenges. It is left for her to run against male counterparts if she so desires to continue in the sports.”

In his active days as an athlete, Porbeni was an all-rounder, competing in seven different sports. He was Nigeria’s first decathlete, and it was Porbeni, who introduced combined events into the nation’s athletics.

Porbeni explained that the CAS judgment meant that Semenya had been having undue advantage over her opponents over the years. “One of the rules of the IAAF is to provide a level-playing ground for all the athletes. Semenya was born with both hormones. The level of testosterone in her is stronger than other female.

“My fear is that Semenya may be stripped of all her previous titles. That might be the next step since she didn’t compete fairly,” Porbeni stated.

In July 2009, Semenya, who was 18-year-old then, ran the fastest 800m time of the year to win gold at the African Junior Championships.

A month later, she undertook a gender test before the World Athletics Championships in Berlin, Germany. Though, Semenya claimed she was unaware of the purpose of the test, the Athletics South Africa president Leonard Chuene told her it was a random doping test.

Semenya went on to win the 800m gold in Berlin, breaking the world-leading mark she set in July. After her victory, the news of Semenya’s gender test was leaked to the press.

In November 2009, there are reports that Semenya’s test revealed male and female characteristics. The results were not made public. But in July 2010, Semenya was cleared by the IAAF to compete again, as she won the 800m at an IAAF event in Berlin in August 2010.

At the London 2012 Olympics Games, Semenya picked a silver medal in the 800m, which was later upgraded to gold after Russian winner Mariya Savinov was given a lifetime ban for doping violations. Semenya was also upgraded to 2011 world gold.

In July 2014, an India sprinter, Dutee Chand, 18, was banned from competing after a hormone test shows natural levels of testosterone normally only found in men.

Chand began a legal challenge against the IAAF’s gender tests in March 2015. She was cleared to compete in July 2015, but the Court of Arbitration for Sport suspended for two years the introduction of an earlier version of IAAF rules requiring female athletes to take testosterone-suppressing medication.

When Semenya won the 800m gold at the Rio 2016 Olympics, other female competitors grumbled, questioning the decision to allow her to compete. This prompted a research commissioned by the IAAF in July 2017, which discovered that female athletes with high testosterone levels had a “competitive advantage.”

And in April 2018, the IAAF introduced new rules for female runners with naturally high testosterone. Semenya said she would challenge the “unfair” IAAF rules in June 2018. Her legal hearing began at CAS on February 18, 2019. Semenya lost her challenge yesterday.

But in its ruling, CAS said it had “serious concerns as to the future practical application” of the regulations.

Semenya, 28, said in response to the ruling that the IAAF “has always targeted me specifically”.

Now she – and other athletes with differences of sexual development (DSD) – must either take medication in order to compete in track events from 400m to the mile, or change to another distance.

Semenya had said previously that she wanted to “run naturally, the way I was born”.

CAS found that the rules for athletes with DSD were discriminatory – but that the discrimination was “necessary, reasonable and proportionate” to protect “the integrity of female athletics”.

However, CAS set out serious concerns about the application of the rules, including: worries that athletes might unintentionally break the strict testosterone levels set by the IAAF; questions about the advantage higher testosterone gives athletes over 1500m and the mile; the practicalities for athletes of complying with the new rules.

CAS has asked the IAAF to consider delaying the application of the rules to the 1500m and one mile events until more evidence is available.

Semenya is still eligible to compete at the Diamond League meet in Doha tomorrow and can make an appeal against the CAS ruling to the Swiss Tribunal Courts within the next 30 days.

According to BBC reports, people with a DSD do not develop along typical gender lines.

Their hormones, genes, reproductive organs may be a mix of male and female characteristics, which can lead to higher levels of testosterone – a hormone that increases muscle mass, strength and haemoglobin, which affects endurance.

The term “disorders” is controversial with some of those affected preferring the term “intersex” and referring to “differences in sex development”.

The new rules come into effect on May 8, which means athletes who want to compete at September’s World Championships – also in Doha – will have to start taking medication within one week.

Those affected by the rules will have to have a blood test on May 8 to test their eligibility. A statement from the IAAF said that no athlete “will be forced to undergo any assessment” and that any treatment was up to the individual athlete.

Athletes with differences of sexual development (DSD) have higher levels of natural testosterone, which the IAAF believes gives them a competitive advantage – findings that were disputed by Semenya and her legal team.

Her lawyers had previously said her “genetic gift” should be celebrated, adding: “Women with differences in sexual development have genetic variations that are no different than other genetic variations in sport.”

They have also suggested that Semenya “does not wish to undergo medical intervention to change who she is and how she was born”.

The rules, applying to women in track events from 400m up to the mile, require athletes to keep their testosterone levels below a prescribed amount “for at least six months prior to competing”.

However, 100m, 200m and 100m hurdles are exempt, as are races longer than one mile and field events.

The rules were intended to be brought in on 1 November 2018, but the legal challenge from Semenya and Athletics South Africa caused that to be delayed until 26 March.

The United Nations Human Rights Council has called the plans “unnecessary, harmful and humiliating” and South Africa’s sports minister called them a “human rights violation”.

On Friday, Semenya won 5,000m gold at the South African Athletics Championships – a new distance for her, and one outside the scope of the IAAF rule change.

It was only the second time Semenya had run the distance and she finished more than 100m ahead of defending national champion, Dominque Scott.

However, Scott said she was unsure whether Semenya could be a serious Olympic contender over the longer distance.

Semenya is national and Commonwealth champion at 1500m, and also broke the African 400m record in August last year.