BERLIN (Reuters) - The gender controversy surrounding South Africa’s teenage 800 metres world champion Caster Semenya has been humiliating for her, the country’s athletics chief said on Thursday.
Semenya’s rapid improvement over the past year, in which she has shaved more than eight seconds off her personal best in the two-lap race, prompted the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) to order a gender test.
“I will continue to defend the girl, I will continue to do anything, even if I am to be kicked out of Berlin, Germany, but I am not going to let that girl be humiliated in the manner that she was humiliated because she has not committed a crime whatsoever. Her crime was to be born the way she is born,” said Athletics South Africa president Leonard Chuene.
“And now people are not happy, and on that basis she is isolated like a leper, like she has got a disease that will affect other people, and I don’t think it’s proper,” he told Reuters Television.
The IAAF said on Wednesday, hours before Semenya was due to run in the 800 final, the procedure for gender testing had started.
Powerfully built but smooth running, the 18-year-old clocked one minute, 55.45 seconds for the year’s fastest time and a personal best by more than a second to win gold.
“I think what they should have done is to protect her until the results are out and then we sit and look at it,” Chuene said.
”Because even if the results are out, if we sit and look at it, at home they would like to have a second opinion, these are her parents, this is not going to be a simple thing.
“We are going to be dealing with a case where the parents are going to come in, where the government is going to come in strongly, and that is going to be the case and that is what I am saying as the head of the federation,” he said.
IAAF general secretary Pierre Weiss, who replaced Semenya at the medallists’ news conference, said an investigation into her gender was underway in South Africa and Berlin, adding the IAAF had allowed her to compete, giving her the benefit of doubt.
“But one question is clear,” Weiss said. “If at the end of the investigation it is proven the athlete is not a female, we will withdraw the result of the competition today.”
He added it could take weeks before a conclusion was reached.
Chuene said the IAAF never officially approached South African athletics officials on this issue.
“We have not been approached... these are the challenges and this is how we are dealing with the challenges, but we have not been approached officially.”
“If we have been approached officially I want to see the letter that says Athletics South Africa, this is a challenge, can we sit and talk. Therefore I am saying, maybe this case could have been handled better,” Chuene said.