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Semenya saga simply brings out the worst in South Africans

Seldom has there ever been such a clear and insane demonstration of hysteria overwhelming reason as we’ve been subjected to in the last week or so. Every two-bit hack in the country has churned out an article on sex or gender testing, how it’s done, and what it can or cannot prove. Almost every columnist has waxed lyrical about what a raw deal our latest sports hero (heroine?) is getting from the IAAF. Our president has decried rumours that Caster Semenya is not really a woman as “wrong” and “ill-spirited” and reportedly said that if the 18-year-old is proven to differ with what the IAAF feels constitutes a woman, she need not return her medal — or, presumably, the half a million bucks prize money she brought home.

Even Julius Malema said, while slipping her R60 000 from the ANC Youth League’s little slush fund, that “whether they like it or not, she is a female”. Oh — sorry. That’s all right then. With absolutely no knowledge of the facts, virtually the entire nation has leapt to the defence of a highly paid athlete whose status was questioned long before the world championships even commenced when she improved her 800m personal best performance by a whopping seven seconds over just nine months. If I was paying the money I’d also want to be certain there was no funny business going on. Just ask the Russians …

Let’s get this straight. Caster’s mother, backed by dozens of journalists and thousands of the starry-eyed lemmings, who really believe they can wish the world in general and South Africa in particular into what they perceive to be a better place, say that the IAAF is racist because it wants Caster to undergo gender testing. The vociferous and rabidly anti-white brigade says this is because Europeans can’t bear to see a black person win gold in athletics. Have any of these outraged nitwits watched an Olympics or world championship athletics final in the last three decades? How often have they seen a white face leading the pack? Did they perhaps notice the protesting crowds of whites outside, toyi-toying against a black victory? Caster’s mum also complains that her daughter was repeatedly dragged off to the change rooms at school athletics meetings so teachers from other schools could check her genitalia because there were ongoing doubts about her sexuality. Her daughter also wasn’t allowed to play soccer with the girls because she was too tough and looked like a boy. Were these actions against her all triggered by white racists?

I feel sorry for Caster having to undergo all that she is at the moment, but not THAT sorry. She’s a big girl now — I presume — and we aren’t talking about primary school high jump competitions here. She stands to make tens of millions of dollars over the next few years, but any doubt about her eligibility to compete against women has to be tested if she wants to reap the enormous rewards of superstardom. Boxers going into world championship fights are very carefully weighed before every bout to ensure that they’re not over the weight limit — it’s not good enough to phone their mothers to ask if their potential retirement plans are overweight.

In international junior soccer matches players are now routinely examined to eliminate the African “overage syndrome” and Nigerian soccer writer George Onmonya (and others) says that “it is widely accepted among African players to have two ages: a “football age” and a “real age” with the difference between the two being as much as ten years. White and black athletes have undergone gender testing for decades, and nobody objected or defended them in advance of the results being made public. This is the world of professional sport with multimillion-dollar rewards and nobody says it has to be “nice” or that South African athletes should be treated differently to those of any other country.

Then we have the anti-sexist mob, which argues that the line between the sexes is blurred and it’s unfair to compartmentalise people as either men or women. Fine. Let’s just have world championship sport, with no separate categories for women. Of course, all the female athletes who today make a very comfortable living from pitting themselves against other women might feel a little aggrieved by that — 17th place at the Olympics doesn’t pay very well.

South Africans have to get rid of the monumental chips on their shoulders and stop playing the race card at every opportunity. If you want to take on the best in the world for huge financial stakes and immense prestige you have to accept that there are standards that have to be adhered to. A letter from your mom, the president of South Africa or even the ANC Youth League is meaningless in modern sport. Get used to it or stay home.


  • Gavin Foster

    Durban photojournalist Gavin Foster writes mainly for magazines. His articles and photographs have appeared in hundreds of South African, American and British publications, and he's also instigated and researched stories for Carte Blanche. Winner of the Magazine Publishers Association of South Africa PICA Profile Writer of the Year Award in 2008. South African Guild of Motoring Journalists Motorcycle Journalist of the Year (Magazines) 2015/16/17. South African Guild of Motoring Journalists Motorcycle Journalist of the Year (Overall) 2015/16. South African Guild of Motoring Journalists Motorsport Journalist of the Year (Magazines) 2017 - Runner-Up 2015/16.