Sport, Arts and Culture Minister Nathi Mthethwa has called on all South Africans, Africans and the entire world to rally behind Caster Semenya in their quest to defeat injustice against women in sport, particularly African women.
Mthethwa’s call follows a decision by the Swiss Federal Tribunal to uphold the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) regarding the IAAF (World Athletics) regulations on female athletes with differences of sexual development (DSD).
The 800-metre Olympic champion, Semenya, approached the Swiss Federal Tribunal in May 2019 after CAS — sport’s highest court — ruled that World Athletics’ regulations were necessary for athletes with DSD in races ranging from 400 metres to a mile, to ensure fair competition.
The tribunal has found that the requirement of subjecting certain female athletes to drug or surgical interventions as a precondition to compete does not amount to a violation of Swiss public policy.
Mthethwa said the recent decision of the Swiss Federal Court is very unfortunate and offensive to the fundamental human rights of female athletes classified hyperandrogenic.
“Both the South African government and the global sporting community always held a firm view that these regulations are a gross violation of fundamental human rights of DSD female athletes and therefore rallied behind the appeal by both Semenya and Athletics South Africa (ASA) in their legal tussle with the IAAF,” Mthethwa said in a statement on Wednesday.
Mthethwa said the regulations are not only a violation of human and women rights, but their administration is considered unethical by experts in the field of medical science.
Options to be considered
“As the government of democratic South Africa, a country renowned for its tradition of promoting and protecting basic human rights, together with Athletics SA, we will study the judgment and consider various options and avenues at our disposal in our collective campaign to fight this injustice,” Mthethwa said.
During Human Rights Month in March 2019, all political parties represented in South African Parliament made unanimous and unambiguous statements condemning and classification of the regulation as violations of both women and human rights, and committed their unequivocal support for Semenya.
The support was also enhanced by the resolution of the United Nations Human Rights Council that classified them as a “contravention of international human rights norms and standards including the right to equality and non-discrimination”.
This also includes the right to the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health, the right to physical and bodily integrity and the right to freedom from torture, and other cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment and harmful practices.
The Women’s Sport Foundation further characterised the regulations as “exacerbating discrimination against women in sport, who are perceived as not prescribing to normative ideas about femininity”.
On the medical front, the World Medical Association (WMA) also condemned the regulations and called upon all doctors and medical scientists across the globe to take no part in their implementation.
In its statement on 29 April 2019, WMA demanded immediate withdrawal of the regulations as they constitute a flagrant discrimination based on genetic variation of female athletes and are contrary to international medical ethics.
The association also expressed fears that athletes like Semenya would be coerced to take unjustified medication not based on medical need, and further indicated that it is unethical for physicians to prescribe treatment for endogenous testosterone if the condition is not recognised as pathological.