The South African Parliament this past week passed a Motion Without Notice which not only condemns the actions of World Athletics against Caster Semenya as an “injustice and violation of human rights” but also resolves that Parliament will do “everything in [their] power” to assist in her fight for justice and equality.
You’ll recall that in September this year, the Federal Supreme Court of Switzerland refused to set aside a 2019 ruling against the 800m World and Olympic Champion and upheld the Court of Arbitration for Sport ruling which allows for controversial regulations issued by the International Association of Athletics Federations IAAF (World Athletics).
This ruling prevents Caster from defending her 800m gold medal at the Tokyo Olympics in the summer of 2021 unless she undergoes dangerous medical procedures to lower her testosterone levels.
In another show of support, it has been confirmed that as of this weekend, all African Human Rights Commissions have endorsed their support for Caster Semenya. This follows on from the resolution taken by the UN Human Rights Council on 21 March 2019 which recognised that black women are repeatedly discriminated against in sports across the globe.
Black people rise
We are living at an interesting time in history. Never mind the Covid-19 pandemic. Globally, the rug has been pulled from the feet of institutionalised racism in several nations, exposing the grime of deeply flawed and polarising mindsets that have caused oppression and disenfranchisement.
Black people continue to arise from the ashes of oppression to make their mark in history. We have Kamala Harris becoming the first woman, black and Indian-American vice president of the United States. And Lewis Hamilton recently tied Michael Schumacher’s Formula 1 racing record to become the most successful driver in the history of the sport.
Lewis Hamilton recently said, “When I first started in Formula 1, I tried to ignore the fact I was the first black guy ever to race in the sport. But, as I’ve got older, I’ve really started to appreciate the implications. It’s a pretty cool feeling to be the person to knock down a barrier – just like the Williams sisters did in tennis or Tiger Woods in golf. I get kids from all different cultures and nationalities coming up to me now, all wanting to be F1 drivers. They feel the sport is open to everyone.”
Unfortunately, the international athletics arena is not yet ‘open to everyone’ as it were and that is why our medalled Olympic champion, Caster Semenya is not giving up her fight against discrimination in international athletics.
Until World Athletics corrects its flawed view that it is permissible to force an athlete to comply with their dangerous medical interventions to change an athlete’s biological make-up in order to make it ‘more fair’ for others to compete against her, our work continues.
Sport has always stood for fair competition. Historically, those who competed would need to do so without performance-enhancing drugs or props. Surely fairness in sports is athletes being able to compete in their natural states, without any medical interventions in order to do so?
Leading the charge against discrimination in athletics
We are the country to break down walls of discrimination in this instance. We did it during apartheid in our own country, and we are going to do it again in the international athletics area.
As a South African collective, we have made substantial progress on the issue of discrimination in sports and with additional backing like we’ve just received, we are being strengthened to continue the fight. As South African lawyers, we will use all avenues in our defence to further the cause against unfair treatment and discrimination.
As the number of institutions that have shown their support for Caster increases, it is reinforced that it is not acceptable to require a woman or man of any race to either have invasive surgery or unethical hormonal treatment to curtail natural biological functions, if they wish to compete.
Caster is shining a light on discrimination and systemic racism in the international athletics arena. But this fight isn’t just about Caster, but for future generations of young women, particularly young women from the developing world that may not have the resources or access to legally challenge their inclusion at the highest levels of sport. DM
Greg Nott has been Caster Semenya’s lawyer and friend for over a decade. He is a Board Member of the NEPAD Business Foundation and the Chairman of Southern Africa-Canada Chamber of Commerce (SACANCHAM). Greg is a Partner and Director at international law firm, Norton Rose Fulbright and the Head of the Africa Practice.
"A fire broke out backstage in a theatre. The clown came out to warn the public; they thought it was a joke and applauded. He repeated it; the acclaim was even greater. I think that's just how the world will come to an end: to general applause from wits who believe It's a joke." ~ Søren Kierkegaard