08 July 2010

Semenya back on track

After being prodded and poked and seeing her most intimate details pored over in the press, Caster Semenya was limbering up to race again after being cleared to run as a woman.

After being prodded and poked and seeing her most intimate details pored over in the press, South African world champion runner Caster Semenya was limbering up to race again after being cleared to run as a woman.

"She's a girl!" The Citizen newspaper announced with just a hint of irony after athletics' ruling body, the IAAF, on Tuesday announced the end of a nearly year-long debate over whether the 19-year-old was woman enough to compete against other women.

"Caster can run," the Sowetan newspaper declared, stating the obvious as well as giving the news.

It took only a three-line statement from the IAAF to press play on Semenya's career, which had been on hold since she won the 800m gold at the world championships in Berlin last year.

11-month ordeal

Just hours before her win the IAAF sensationally announced it had requested gender tests on the athlete because of her muscular build and rapidly-improved times.

Eleven months later, it had accepted the recommendation of a panel of medical experts that she be allowed compete "with immediate effect".

The IAAF refused to divulge the results of the tests, which an Australian newspaper had reported last year as showing Semenya to have an intersex condition. Nor did it explain why it took so long to come to a conclusion, fuelling speculation that the runner had in fact been undergoing hormone treatment for her condition to meet the IAAF's criteria.

IAAF wants to move on

Above all, the IAAF appeared anxious to move on, after getting mired in a quagmire largely of its own making, for leaking not only the news of the sex tests, but also, devastatingly for Semenya, allegedly the results.

South Africans had reacted angrily to the affair, with many accusing the Monte Carlo-based body of trampling Semenya's rights by being cavalier with her privacy.

Many also rubbished the need for sex tests on the basis that Semenya had been brought up as a girl, saw herself as a girl, and was therefore, "a girl".

"We are not going to allow Europeans to describe and define our child... we will define our child," the suspended former head of Athletics South Africa (ASA), Leonard Chuene, had defiantly declared.

Chuene was suspended after it emerged it was he who organised the sex tests before Semenya travelled to Berlin.

Treats of another 'world war'

Sports Minister Makhenkesi Stofile had threatened another "world war" if Semenya was barred from running. By Wednesday, the war drums had fallen silent but a post-mortem was underway.

"It has always been our long-held view that Caster is a woman and that she should have been allowed a long time ago to participate in athletics as a woman," the ruling African National Congress said.

Lamenting the invasion of Semenya's privacy Woman and Children's Minister Noluthando Mayende Sibiya told the BBC: "We need to ensure that the laws of the country are tightened so that the rights of people are observed and protected in that regard."

Semenya thrilled to get career back

Semenya, who had also complained in March about the trampling of her privacy, said she was "thrilled" to get her career back on track.

Gone was the defiant teenager, who had declared in April that athletics was "nothing" to her.

"I'm back! Yeh! I'm back!" she told The Star newspaper as she celebrated the news with her lawyers and coach at a Johannesburg restaurant.

All eyes were now on whether her abilities had been circumscribed by the treatment she has been receiving. At a time trial Wednesday to assess her fitness for the African Athletics Championships in Kenya later this month, Semenya fell short of the mark by a few seconds.

Her coach Michael Seme was confident, however, she would return to form after a few competitions in Europe. (Clare Byrne/DPA/Sapa, July 2010)




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