The South African government has thrown its weight behind Caster Semenya in her legal battle with world athletics’ governing body, the IAAF. The government declared the IAAF’s proposed testosterone limit for women “a gross violation of human rights”.
The double Olympic and three-times world 800m champion takes her fight against the IAAF to the court of arbitration for sport (Cas) in Lausanne today, 18 February.
In a speech in Pretoria on 15 February, the sports minister Tokozile Xasa said the government had a “direct interest” in the case as South Africa’s entire history had been a struggle for human rights, adding that the new rules would have a “negative impact on our golden girl”.
Xasa said: “What’s at stake here is far more than the right to participate in a sport.
“Women’s bodies, their wellbeing, their ability to earn a livelihood, their very identity, their privacy and sense of safety and belonging in the world, are being questioned. This is a gross violation of internationally accepted standards of human rights law.”
Xasa explained the government had set up a “high-level panel” of legal and medical experts to help Semenya, who is also being backed by the national athletics federation.
Declaring “the greatness of Caster Semenya”, Xasa then announced the launch of a social media campaign with the hashtag #NaturallySuperior to rally global support for the 28-year-old athlete.
The IAAF has always denied it is questioning the right of Semenya, or any other intersex athlete, to compete as females, and says it is just trying to level the playing field.
“If a DSD athlete has testes and male levels of testosterone, they get the same increases in bone and muscle size and strength and increases in haemoglobin that a male gets when they go through puberty, which is what gives men such a performance advantage over women,” it said in a statement last week.