Semenya hits back at IAAF president Coe for controversial gender comments

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JOHANNESBURG, March 27 – Caster Semenya on Wednesday hit back at Sebastian Coe after the IAAF president made a controversial statement on women competing in sport over the weekend.

Coe was quoted by Australia’s Daily Telegraph as sating: “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.”

Semenya last month appeared in front of The Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), where her team of experts were challenging the proposals of the IAAF that want to restrict female athletes’ testosterone levels competing in events between 400m and a mile.

Testosterone is a hormone that increases muscle mass, strength and haemoglobin, which affects endurance.

Semenya has a condition called hyperandrogenism which means her testosterone levels are naturally elevated.

If the IAAF are successful it would require her to take medication to reduce those levels.

Semenya’s law firm Norton Rose Fulbright  made the following statement in response to Coe:

“Caster Semenya has been reluctant to engage in a public debate while her case is pending before the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

This weekend Ms Semenya read the comments of Mr. Sebastian Coe published in an exclusive interview by the Daily Telegraph (Australia).

Ms Semenya remembers her story breaking out of Australia ten years ago on the eve of her competing in the 2009 World Championships. After winning the 800 metre final the next day Ms Semenya stood in the middle of the stadium knowing that everyone watching the event was judging her. She was 18 years old.

The nature of the intrusive medical examinations that Ms Semenya was subjected to following the event were discussed publicly, including by the IAAF.

The scars Ms Semenya has developed over the past decade run deep. She has endured and forged herself into a symbol of strength, hope and courage. Reading the comments of Mr. Coe this weekend opened those old wounds and the reference by the Daily Telegraph (Australia) to “the muscle-packed Semenya” is just the latest illustration of how the issues have been distorted by innuendo.

Ms Semenya is a woman. There is no debate or question about this and the IAAF does not dispute this. She was born a woman, raised a woman, socialized as a woman and has competed as a woman her entire life.

Mr. Coe may have views about transgender women in sport, but that is a different issue. Ms. Semenya has challenged the regulation that affects women athletes with differences in sexual development (DSDs) and forces them to undergo invasive medical intervention to be able to participate in women’s sport. Ms Semenya does not wish to undergo medical intervention to change who she is and how she was born. She wants to compete naturally.

Women with DSDs are born with rare genetic differences. These differences should be celebrated in sports like all other genetic variations that make elite events worth watching.

Mr. Coe is wrong to think Ms Semenya is a threat to women’s sport. Ms Semenya is a heroine and inspirational role model for young girls around the world who dream of achieving excellence in sport. Ms Semenya hopes and dreams that one day she can run free of judgment, free of discrimination and in a world where she is accepted for who she is.” (ANA)