Minister accuses IAAF of 'violating women's bodies'

LAUSANNE • South Africa's sports minister accused track and field's world governing body on Thursday of seeking to violate women's bodies as she visited Switzerland to back Caster Semenya's fight against proposals to restrict female athletes' testosterone levels.

Double Olympic 800m champion Semenya has appealed to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) to challenge the rules proposed by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF).

Tokozile Xasa said her trip was aimed at offering support for compatriot Semenya as the week-long hearing draws to a close.

But she also doubled down on criticism of the IAAF, which has argued the proposed rules are necessary to create a "level playing field" for other female athletes.

"We are talking (about) violations of women's bodies. Where women have to explain themselves for how they appear in the eyes of (others)," Ms Xasa said.

"It is not just about South Africa... (or) the participation of women in sport," she added, stressing that fundamental human rights issues were at stake in the hearing.

The controversial measures would force so-called "hyperandrogenic" athletes or those with "differences of sexual development" (DSD) to seek treatment to lower their testosterone levels below a prescribed amount if they wish to continue competing as women.

Ms Xasa, wearing a T-shirt that said "we oppose IAAF regulations", also conveyed a message from South African President Cyril Ramaphosa to Semenya: "Remember, you are great. Remember, that you are a symbol that constantly reminds us that nothing beats the enduring power of human spirit."

Semenya stood at the back of the room as the minister spoke and did not address the media.

Many South Africans have thrown their weight behind Semenya in the media and online.

Last week, the government launched a campaign dubbed #NaturallySuperior in a bid to drum up international support for Semenya's fight against the rules which they have labelled "discriminatory".

The track and field body has said that DSD athletes that have male levels of testosterone can have clear advantages in bone and muscle size and strength, and would therefore have an unfair edge over their competitors.

A judgment in the case is expected by the end of next month.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 23, 2019, with the headline 'Minister accuses IAAF of 'violating women's bodies''. Print Edition | Subscribe