BY JAMES DIAMOND
Athletics South Africa (ASA) has attacked the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) and its President Sebastian Coe for repeatedly commenting on Caster Semenya’s appeal at the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), claiming their statements put them in breach of confidentiality agreements.
The CAS is deliberating on what it has labelled one of the most “pivotal” cases in its history and a verdict is expected by the end of this month.
Semenya, a double Olympic and triple world champion over 800 metres, is challenging the IAAF which is hoping to bring in new rules on female participation.
The IAAF claims the South African and other female runners with high testosterone levels, who compete between 400m and the mile, must either take medication or compete against men.
According to the IAAF, this is to create a level playing field but the 28-year-old Semenya and others have argued the testosterone in her body is naturally occurring and so to ban her would be unfair.
The IAAF was first accused of breaking rules related to the case when prior to the start of proceedings in Lausanne, the governing body released a list of expert witnesses it was set to call.
Semenya’s lawyers described the release as a “clear breach” of confidentiality rules and labelled it an attempt to influence public opinion, before releasing their own list of witnesses the next day.
Now, ASA has accused the IAAF of breaking rules once again, after its President Sebastian Coe gave an interview to the Daily Telegraph in Australia, in which he said their proposed rule was necessary to protect the women’s category.
“The reason we have gender classification is because if you didn’t then no woman would ever win another title or another medal or break another record in our sport,” he was quoted as saying.
The ASA has since released a statement saying it was “not amused” by his comments.
“’The concern arises from confidentiality agreements entered into by the parties to the arbitration, namely the IAAF, Caster Semenya and ASA,” said ASA in a statement published on its website.
“Notwithstanding such an agreement, the IAAF has on several occasions (in breach of the agreement) issued public statements on matters relating to, and arising from, the regulations.
“ASA would have preferred an open and transparent hearing of the matter given the (legitimate) global interest therein, but was persuaded that medically sensitive issues, and in particular, privacy issues relating to Ms Semenya, would arise during the proceedings, and that a closed and confidential hearing was appropriate.
“Notwithstanding the agreement, the IAAF has on several occasions issued media releases and its President has seen fit to comment publicly on matters relating to the regulations.
“A few days ago, the following remarks were attributed to Seb Coe that appeared in the Australian Daily Telegraph: ‘The reason we have gender classification is that if you didn’t then no woman would ever run another title or another medal or break another record in our sport’.
“We support the rebuke issued by Ms Semenya’s lawyers.
“We agree that the DSD [differences of sexual development] regulations are discriminatory on a number of bases including birth, sex, gender, physical appearance and the fact they are restricted to specific events (namely 400m to a mile).
“Ms Semenya was born, raised and has participated in athletics as a woman and identifies as a woman.
“The regulations attempt to classify her and other female DSDs as ‘biologically male’ or as having a male ‘sports sex’.
“The regulations are nothing other than a further attempt (like other scientifically discredited attempts in the past) at so-called gender verification testing.”
Semenya’s lawyers said Coe had “reopened old wounds” with his comments, reiterating that the South African is a woman and suggesting that therefore, to ban her from women’s competition in order to protect women does not make sense.
ASA took the opportunity in their statement, as Semenya’s lawyers also did, to separate Semenya’s case from the issue of transgender athletes in sport.
“Any public comment or discourse linking the transgender debate to the pending matter before the CAS is unhelpful, serving only to reinforce by implication a false position that DSD athletes are biologically male,” they said.
“The delay in handing down the CAS award [due originally by March 26], is entirely due to the IAAF seeking to amend the regulations post the CAS hearing.
“This necessitated a further exchange of written argument between the parties.
“ASA calls upon the IAAF and its President, Seb Coe, to refrain from further public comment pending the outcome of the CAS award due towards the end of April 2019.
“In doing so, ASA, however, respects the right of third parties and the media to openly debate issues arising from the IAAF’s DSD Regulations.
“It is indeed in the public interest that they do so.
“ASA hopes it is done responsibly and sensitively with due regard to the rights of the parties concerned, especially that of Ms Semenya.”
In response, the IAAF told insidethegames it agreed that third parties and the media had a right to openly debate the issue “and that it should be done responsibly and sensibly”.
“It is with this in mind that the IAAF continues to respond to media enquires on the issue, on statements released and, where necessary, correcting incorrect information,” the IAAF said.
In response to ASA’s accusation that it was the IAAF’s fault a verdict had been delayed, an IAAF spokesperson referred to a statement released by the CAS on March 21, in which it was said all parties had agreed on the delay.
“We are unable to share evidence and information provided to CAS whilst deliberations are ongoing,” the IAAF added.