Two-time Olympic and three-time world champion Caster Semenya has called African athletics leaders “cowards” for failing to stand up and fight back against female athletes facing eligibility issues.
Athletes with high testosterone levels are required to have their levels medically reduced in order to compete in events between 400m and 1500m.
“I think nowadays we have loose leaders,” Semenya said.
“On this continent, people are silent. I don’t know why they are silent. They don’t fight for their own athletes.
“You have to show up and work, fight for your athletes, and then African athletics will be great. Right now it’s disappointing.”
Asked by BBC Sport Africa about Semenya’s comments and whether the African Athletics leadership has done enough for its athletes, Confederation of African Athletics (CAA) President Malboum Kalkaba said “Sorry, I don’t have an answer”.
Similar cases across the continent
Several other African athletes have been affected by DSD rules, including Olympic silver medalist Burundi Francine Niyonsaba from Burundi and her partner in the 800m Marguerite Wambui. from Kenya.
Last year, two Namibian teenagers, Christine Mboma and Beatrice Masilingi, were forced to withdraw from the 400m weeks before the Tokyo Olympics after being told about their high testosterone levels.
Mboma and Masilingi ended up competing in the 200m in Japan, with Mboma winning a historic Olympic silver medal for his country.
However, Semenya, who now runs 5000m, questioned the way African leaders are handling the situation of teenagers as well as their relative “silence” on the issue of DSD in general.
“When I was 18 I couldn’t speak,” said the South African. “Now I’m mature enough, I can talk.
“Imagine what was going through the minds of those kids. They can’t do anything, but the leaders are just sitting outside, enjoying the privileges, being in the boardrooms.”
CAA chief executive Lamine Faty said Semenya “has the right to express his feelings” and that concerns about DSD rules were raised by the organization “a long time ago” and have been recently discussed at a CAA board meeting in Mauritius.
A debate over eligibility in women’s sports has intensified, with a recent focus on the status of transgender athletes.
Last week, World Athletics chairman Seb Coe hinted her organization could track swimming by banning transgender women elite women’s competitions, insisting that “fairness is non-negotiable”.
“We continue to study, research and contribute to the growing body of evidence that testosterone is a key determinant of performance, and have scheduled a discussion of our regulations with our board later this year,” a- he told BBC Sport.
“We will never stop fighting”
A champion in the 800m at the 2012 and 2016 Olympics, Semenya has previously challenged World Athletics rules, but lost his case before the Court of Arbitration for Sport in 2019.
She then lost a call and was defeated in Swiss Federal Court a year later, before go to the European Court of Human Rights where his case has not yet been heard.
“We will never stop fighting,” she said.
“At the moment it’s not about me, it’s about the young children who are coming now and who are going to face the same problem.
“There are a lot of kids who want to compete in the 400m, 800m and 1500m, but they can’t be included.
“They say the sport is for everyone, but right now it’s not for everyone.”
A passage to the road for Semenya?
As athletes prepare for the World Championships in Athletics in Oregon, Semenya will be watching from home for the second time in a row.
She made her major championship debut in the 5,000m earlier this month at the African Athletics Championships in Mauritius – the same country where she was showcased to the world, winning the continent’s junior title in the 800m in 2009.
However, she couldn’t replicate her performance of 13 years ago and had to settle for sixth place in 16:03, well off the World Championship qualifying mark of 15:1.
“My first career was here and I was victorious, [but] it doesn’t mean that I will always win,” said after the race at the Côte d’Or stadium earlier this month.
“At the end of the day, it’s about coming here, representing my country and representing my people because they want to see me race, people want to see me happy.
“It’s not about winning. I’ve won every major title, I’m the greatest they’ve ever seen.”
Semenya insisted she was undeterred by missing out on Eugene a spot and might even step away from the track in the future.
“This year’s World Championships aren’t really a goal – it would be a bonus if I got there,” she said.
“I have a four-year plan to see if I can be able to maintain what I’m doing and then I move on to the road. The goal is to be able to keep up the pace, to be able to run at a pace consistently and that’s what I’m trying to do.
“I’m learning. I’m still a beginner. I’m not going to compare myself to people who have been doing the 5,000m for over a decade. I just started last year.
“It takes four years for a distance runner to be great. I’m trying to figure it out. It’s like a baby trying to learn to walk.”
The South African says she is inspired by the journey of double Olympic champion Eliud Kipchoge, from the track to the marathon.
“Eliud Kipchoge was a 5,000m runner and only won one world title over the distance and then he became the greatest marathon runner,” Semenya said.
“So now it’s just a matter of humanity, showing people that even though people can try to stop you from achieving what you want to achieve, you can still do it.”