Radcliffe offends S. Africa with Semenya comments

Caster Semenya (above) is expected to clinch gold in the 800m in Rio and Paula Radcliffe has implied it is unfair and that the sport will be devalued should Semenya win.
Caster Semenya (above) is expected to clinch gold in the 800m in Rio and Paula Radcliffe has implied it is unfair and that the sport will be devalued should Semenya win. PHOTO: REUTERS

JOHANNESBURG • Fears are rising in South Africa that controversy will erupt at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics over middle-distance runner Caster Semenya.

The 25-year-old South African, who was forced to take a gender test in 2009, is the favourite to take gold in the women's 800 metres.

But, speaking to BBC radio over the weekend, Paula Radcliffe, the former British distance runner, suggested that the sport will be devalued if Semenya wins gold in Rio.

"When we talk about it in terms of fully expecting no other result than Caster Semenya to win that 800m, then it's no longer sport and it's no longer an open race. There is an issue that needs to be understood a lot better," said Radcliffe.

The Briton went on to comment on Semenya's level of testosterone and her subsequent clearance by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF), which she said, could spark a recruitment drive from other countries where women have higher levels of testosterone.

Radcliffe added that, while the rights of Semenya is important, it needs to be balanced with those of other athletes.

Her comments, raising concerns about athletes with the condition of intersex or hyperandrogenism, has caused anger among some people in South Africa.

It comes after the IAAF was last year forced to suspend its rules to control some female athletes' testosterone levels after it was challenged at the Court of Arbitration for Sport by another runner, India's Dutee Chand.

An online campaign in South Africa claims Semenya has been "bullied" in the run-up to the Olympics.

Ross Tucker, a professor of exercise physiology at the University of Free State in South Africa, said on his Twitter account: "Caster Semenya is a certain gold and is guaranteed hostile, incendiary controversy."

THE TIMES, LONDON

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 27, 2016, with the headline 'Radcliffe offends S. Africa with Semenya comments'. Print Edition | Subscribe