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My fight is not only about me‚ Caster Semenya tells leadership summit

01 November 2018 - 14:53 By Katharine Child
Olympic and world champions Caster Semenya in good spirits during her speech at the Discovery Leadership Summit in Sandton, north of Johannesburg, on November 1, 2018.
Olympic and world champions Caster Semenya in good spirits during her speech at the Discovery Leadership Summit in Sandton, north of Johannesburg, on November 1, 2018.
Image: DiscoverySA/Twitter

South African hero and world champion Caster Semenya says she is taking her fight against being forced to reduce her testosterone levels to the Court of Arbitration for Sport for other women and girls.

Semenya was speaking at the Discovery Leadership Summit in Sandton on Thursday.

The International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) has proposed that athletes it refers to as having “differences of sexual development” lower their naturally-occurring testosterone levels if they want to compete.

This means taking a daily hormonal pill very similar to the birth control pill.

Without doing this‚ Semenya will not be able compete at the World Athletic Championships in 2019.

“Fighting the IAAF isn't about me. I’m a world champ‚ Commonwealth Games champ‚ Africa champ…the fight is about the upcoming young girls who would have the same problem as me‚” she said.

The IAAF argues that high testosterone levels similar to that of men‚ or even higher‚ give an unfair advantage to track athletes like Semenya - and thus women athletes can't compete professionally.

Semenya is challenging this testosterone regulation at the Court of Arbitration for Sport in Geneva at the end of February.

“I knew at the age of four that I was going to be great‚ but I never thought I would be as great as I would be today. If you want to achieve anything in life‚ you have to fight for it‚” Semenya said.

She was interviewed by journalist and author Redi Thlabi at the leadership summit.

Semenya added that she didn’t let people's gossip about her masculine attributes get to her. She told the audience that‚ from childhood‚ people spoke about her deep voice and how she had mostly male friends.

"I am happy with who I am. I am comfortable in my own skin. They can never hurt you if you know who you are.”

Her speech was punctuated by audience applause and support.

Asked how she chose her sponsors‚ which include Discovery Vitality and Nike‚ she said she “knows her worth”.

“I am a tough cookie‚” she said‚ explaining if she didn’t get what she wanted she wouldn’t accept that sponsorship.

But she urged athletes to build their brand so they had something to offer sponsors.

“You have to realise sponsors want something in return...how you carry yourself.”

She said she had had to learn a lot and found talking English to Model C students at University a huge challenge.

“Every day is a learning curve in which I want to learn more."

Semenya also made a call for sports governing bodies to develop up-and-coming underprivileged athletes‚ explaining they sometimes needed things as simple as transport money to get to competitions.

"We still need to go down there and support those who need it the most."

Thlabi closed the dialogue asking about her wife‚ Violet Raseboya.

Semenya said: "Love is love. She is the reason I am here today. She wants best for me. She pushes me to go to school [university]. I don't think I would be here today without her."

Semenya said she wanted five children‚ but Raseboya only wanted two.

Semenya has two sets of lawyers‚ including those who represented Indian athlete Dutee Chand and overturned the first IAAF regulation on lowering testosterone.

Her lawyer‚ director at Norton Rose‚ Patrick Bracher‚ told TimesLIVE: "We are bound by a strict confidentiality undertaking. All we can say at the moment is that the proceedings will deal with both scientific and human rights issues. We are working with Canadian lawyers‚ Davies Ward Phillips & Vineberg‚ who successfully challenged the previous IAAF regulations."