Two-time Olympic and three-time world champion Caster Semenya has branded leaders in African athletics “cowards” for failing to stand up and fight for female athletes who are facing eligibility issues.
The 31-year-old is barred from competing in her preferred 800m race by World Athletics’ differences of sexual development (DSD) rules introduced in 2019.
Athletes with high testosterone are required to medically lower their levels in order to compete in events between 400m and 1500m.
“I think that, in this day, we have coward leaders,” Semenya said.
“In this continent, people are quiet. I don’t know why they’re quiet. They’re not fighting for their own athletes.
“You have got to show up and work, fight for your athletes, and then African athletics will be great. At this moment it’s disappointing.”
When asked by BBC Sport Africa about Semenya’s comments and whether African athletics leadership has done enough for its athletes, Confederation of African Athletics (CAA) president Malboum Kalkaba said: “Sorry, I do not have an answer”.
Similar cases across continent
Several other African athletes have been affected by the DSD rules, including Burundi’s Olympic silver medallist Francine Niyonsaba of Burundi and her fellow 800m runner Margaret Wambui of Kenya.
Last year, two Namibian teenagers, Christine Mboma and Beatrice Masilingi, were forced to step down from the 400m weeks before the Tokyo Olympics after they were informed of their elevated testosterone levels.
Both Mboma and Masilingi ended up competing in the 200m in Japan, with Mboma winning historic Olympic silver for her country.
However, Semenya, who now competes over 5000m, has questioned African leadership’s handling of the teenagers’ situation as well as its relative “silence” on the DSD matter in general.
“When I was 18, I couldn’t speak up,” the South African said. “Now I’m mature enough, I can speak.
“Imagine what was going on through those kids’ minds. They can’t do anything, but the leaders are just sitting out there enjoying the privileges, being in the boardrooms.”
CAA director general Lamine Faty said Semenya “has the right to express her sentiments” and that concerns over DSD rules were raised by the organisation a “long time ago” and were discussed again recently at a CAA council meeting in Mauritius.
A debate about eligibility in women’s sports has been heating up, with the recent focus being on the status of transgender athletes.
Last week, World Athletics president Seb Coe hinted his organisation could follow swimming in banning transgender women from elite female competitions, insisting “fairness is non-negotiable”.
“We continue to study, research and contribute to the growing body of evidence that testosterone is a key determinant in performance, and have scheduled a discussion on our regulations with our council at the end of the year,” he told BBC Sport.
‘We are never going to stop fighting’
Champion over 800m at both the 2012 and 2016 Olympic Games, Semenya has previously challenged World Athletics’ rules but lost her case at the Court of Arbitration for Sport in 2019.
She then lost an appeal and was defeated at Switzerland’s Federal Supreme Court a year later, before going to the European Court of Human Rights where her case has yet to be heard.
“We are never going to stop fighting,” she said.
“At the moment it is not about me, it’s about the young kids that are coming up now that are going to face the same problem.
“There are a lot of kids that want to compete in 400m, in 800m and in 1500m, but they cannot be included.
“They say sport is for all, but at the moment it’s not for all.”
When Zhang Xiaotao woke up he was in a cave and somebody had lit a fire to keep him warm. He had no idea how he’d got there.
Zhang’s frozen unconscious body had been found by a passing shepherd who’d wrapped him in a quilt and carried him over his shoulders to safety. He was one of the lucky ones.
In May this year, 21 competitors died at an ultra-running event in northern China hit by extreme weather conditions: hail, heavy rain and intense gales caused temperatures to plummet, and nobody seemed prepared for it.
Only a small number felt comfortable talking about what happened – and some have been threatened for doing so.
The sun was out on race day in Baiyin, a former mining area in China’s Gansu province. Some 172 athletes were ready to run 62 miles (100km) through the Yellow River Stone Forest national park.
The organisers were expecting good conditions – they’d had mild weather the previous three years. They had even arranged for some of the competitors’ cold-weather gear to be moved forward along the course so they could pick it up later in the day.
But soon after Zhang arrived at the start line, a cold wind began to blow. Some runners gathered in a nearby gift shop to take shelter, many of them shivering in their short-sleeved tops and shorts.
Zhang started the race well. He was among the quickest to reach the first checkpoint, making light work of the rugged mountain trails. Things started to go badly wrong just before the second checkpoint, some 20km into the course.
“I was halfway up the mountain when hail started to fall,” he later wrote in a post on Chinese social media. “My face was pummelled by ice and my vision was blurred, making it difficult to see the path clearly.”
Still, Zhang went on. He overtook Huang Guanjun, the men’s hearing-impaired marathon winner at China’s 2019 National Paralympic Games, who was struggling badly. He went across to another runner, Wu Panrong, with whom he’d been keeping pace since the start.
Wu was shaking and his voice was trembling as he spoke. Zhang put his arm around him and the pair continued together, but quickly the wind became so strong, and the ground so slippery, that they were forced to separate.
As Zhang continued to ascend, he was overpowered by the wind, with gusts reaching up to 55mph. He’d forced himself up from the ground many times, but now because of the freezing cold he began to lose control of his limbs. The temperature felt like -5C. This time when he fell down he couldn’t get back up.
Thinking fast, Zhang covered himself with an insulation blanket. He took out his GPS tracker, pressed the SOS button, and passed out.
Closer to the back of the field, another runner, who goes by the alias Liuluo Nanfang, was hit by the frozen rain. It felt like bullets against his face.
As he progressed he saw somebody walking towards him, coming down from the top of the mountain. The runner said it was too cold, that he couldn’t stand it and was retiring.
But Nanfang, like Zhang, decided to keep going. The higher he climbed, the stronger the wind and the colder he felt. He saw a few more competitors coming down on his way up the mountain. His whole body was soaking wet, including his shoes and socks.
When he finally did realise he had to stop, he found a relatively sheltered spot and tried to get warm. He took out his insulation blanket, wrapping it around his body. It was instantly blown away by the wind as he’d lost almost all sensation and control in his fingers. He put one in his mouth, holding it for a long time, but it didn’t help.
As Nanfang now started to head back down the mountain, his vision was blurred and he was shaking. He felt very confused but knew he had to persist.
Halfway down he met a member of the rescue team that had been dispatched after the weather turned. He was directed to a wooden hut. Inside, there were at least 10 others who had decided to withdraw before him. About an hour later that number had reached around 50. Some spoke of seeing competitors collapsed by the side of the road, frothing at their mouths.
“When they said this, their eyes were red,” Nanfang later wrote on social media.
Zhang, meanwhile, had been rescued by the shepherd, who’d taken off his wet clothes and wrapped him in a quilt. Inside the cave, he wasn’t alone.
When he came to, about an hour later, there were other runners also taking refuge there, some of whom had also been saved by the shepherd. The group had been waiting for him to wake up so they could descend the mountain together.
At the bottom, medics and armed police were waiting. More than 1,200 rescuers were deployed throughout the night, assisted by thermal-imaging drones and radar detectors, according to state media.
The following morning, authorities confirmed that 21 people died, including Huang, who Zhang overtook, and Wu, the runner he’d kept pace with at the start of the race.
As news of the deaths broke on social media, many people questioned how the tragedy could have happened. Some competitors, such as Zhang and Nanfang, chose to write about their experiences online to help people understand what it was like.
But Zhang’s post, written under the name ‘Brother Tao is running’, disappeared shortly after it was published.
When Caixin – a Beijing-based news website – re-uploaded his testimony, a new post appeared on the account a week later, begging the media and social media users to leave him and his family alone.
It later transpired that Zhang had suspended his account after people questioned his story. Some accused him of showing off for being the sole survivor at the front of the pack, others had sent him death threats.
“We don’t want to be internet celebrities,” he wrote online, adding that the man who saved him had also faced pressure from the media and “other aspects”.
“Our lives need to be quiet,” he wrote. “Please everyone, especially friends in the media, do not disturb me and do not question me.”
The survivors weren’t the only ones to find themselves put under pressure.
One woman, who lost her father in the race, was targeted with social media abuse on Weibo after questioning how her father was “allowed to die”. She was accused of spreading rumours and using “foreign forces” to spread negative stories about China.
Another woman, Huang Yinzhen, whose brother died, was followed by local officials who she claimed were trying to keep relatives from speaking to each other.
“They just prevent us from contacting other family members or reporters, so they keep monitoring us,” she told the New York Times.
In China it’s typical for relatives of those who have died in similar circumstances – where authorities face blame – to have pressure placed on them to remain silent. For the government, social media attention on any possible failings is not welcome.
A month after the race, in June, 27 local officials were punished. The Communist Party secretary of Jingtai County, Li Zuobi, was found dead. He died after falling from the apartment in which he lived. Police ruled out homicide.
The Baiyin marathon is just one of many races in a country that was experiencing a running boom. Its tragic outcome has brought the future of these events into question.
According to the Chinese Athletics Association (CAA), China hosted 40 times more marathons in 2018 than in 2014. The CAA said there were 1,900 “running races” in the country in 2019.
Before Covid hit, many small towns and regions attempted to capitalise on this by hosting events in order to bring more tourism into the area and boost the local economy.
After what happened in Baiyin, the Chinese Communist Party’s Central Commission for Discipline Inspection accused organisers of some of the country’s races of “focusing on economic benefits” while they are “unwilling to invest more in safety”.
With Beijing’s hosting of the 2022 Winter Olympics just months away, China has suspended extreme sports such as trail running, ultramarathons and wingsuit flying while it overhauls safety regulations. It is not yet clear when they will restart. There have been reports that not even a chess tournament managed to escape the new measures.
But without events like these, people wishing to get involved, perhaps even future star athletes, are finding themselves frustrated. In some cases, as Outside Magazine points out, athletes could take matters into their own hands, venturing into the mountains without any regulation whatsoever and putting themselves at risk.
Mark Dreyer, who runs the China Sports Insider website, wrote on Twitter: “If this incident has removed the top layer of the mass participation pyramid – as seems likely – there’s no telling what effect that would have at the lower levels.
“The long-term effects of this tragic – and avoidable – accident could also be significant.”
Athletics Kenya on Wednesday questioned why the men’s 4x400m relay team did not receive an invitation to compete in next month’s IAAF Continental Cup in Ostrava, Czech Republic.
The Kenyan quartet of Jared Momanyi, Alfas Kishoyian, Aaron Koech and Emmanuel Korir won the gold medal at the African championships in Asaba, Nigeria, earlier this month, but none of the athletes were included in the African team.
The Confederation of African Athletics (CAA) has named just three athletes for the four-man event: Botswanans Nijel Amos and Baboloki Thebe, and South African Phora Thapelo.
“We are surprised that none of our athletes have been included in the team for the men’s 4×400 relay, and yet the team won the African title in a championship record of 3:00:92,” Athletics Kenya president Jackson Tuwei said.
“We don’t know what criteria was used (by the CAA) to pick the runners to make the relay team.”
Kenya, which topped the standings in Asaba with 19 medals, including 11 golds, will be represented by only nine athletes next month, while former champion South Africa has the highest number of athletes, with 20 in the team.
The Continental Cup is held every four years since 2010, replacing the previous Athletics World Cup and involves teams from Africa, the Americas, Asia-Pacific and Europe.
Nigeria has 16 athletes; Morocco has a total of six athletes, while Egypt and Ethiopia both have four athletes on the team.
Cameroon, Ghana, Guinea Bissau, Burundi, Swaziland, Uganda and Djibouti only have one athlete each on the team.
Teams are beginning to take shape for the IAAF Continental Cup Ostrava 2018 with the start of the two-day competition, set for 8-9 September in the eastern Czech city, now just 30 days away.
While the final entries are still to be confirmed by the Confederation of African Athletics (CAA), the team for Africa will largely be based upon the finishes at the 21st African Championships which concluded in Asaba, Nigeria, on Sunday (5).
Several freshly-minted continental champions, including 100 and 200m winner Josee Marie Ta Lou of Ivory Coast, 400 and 800m winner Caster Semenya of South Africa and men’s 800m champion Nijel Amos of Botswana, are expected to compete.
For Team Europe, the defending Continental Cup champions, selection will be primarily based upon the results at the European Championships that are taking place this week at Berlin’s Olympic Stadium. Women’s 100m champion Dina Asher-Smith of Great Britain has already confirmed that she’ll accept the team spot, setting up an intriguing duel with Ta Lou as the pair share the 2018 world lead at 10.85.
Composition of the Asia-Pacific and Americas teams will be based upon athletes’ positions on the 2018 performance lists.
Each team will enter two athletes for each individual event and one team for each relay (maximum six athletes). Unlike the 2014 edition, there are no limits on the number of athletes entered from any one country. Additionally, at least three athletes from the host country shall form part of their continental team. Each team may also enter up to a maximum of three overall reserve athletes. The deadline for final entries in 29 August.
Additional information about scoring, lane draws and competing order can be downloaded here.
This year marks the third edition of the IAAF Continental Cup, the successor to ten editions of the IAAF World Cup in Athletics whose inaugural edition took place in Dusseldorf from 2-4 September 1977.
The IAAF Continental Cup Ostrava 2018 will be the largest sporting event hosted by the Czech Republic this year.
World 800m record holder David Rudisha, four-time world champion Ezekiel Kemboi and Olympics 5,000m champion Vivian Cheruiyot have been inducted into the Confederation of African Athletics (CAA) Hall of Fame.
The three athletes who have one thing in common besides their feats at both national and international, they are all Olympic gold medalists in their respective races.
This accolade was bestowed at the welcoming Dinner for athletes and officials participating at the 21st edition of the African Athletics Championships that is being held in Asaba, Nigeria.
According to Nigerian newspaper The Punch, out of the 16 inductees only two were in attendance – Nigerian Blessing Okagbare-Ighoteguonor and Olusoji Fasuba.
The publicationcontinued saying that the event started five hours late, which forced athletes to stay away.
The Publication further reported that the Ethiopians and Kenyans did not attend as they arrived in Asaba late on Tuesday after being stranded in Lagos for two days.
International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) President Sebastian Coe, CAA President Kalkaba Malboum and members of his executive committee, State Governor Dr. Ifeanyi Okowa, and top government officials at Federal and State level, diplomats and the LOC led by its Chairman Solomon Ogba graced the occasion.
Ethiopia inductees were led by world record holder and champion Genzebe Dibabaa, Almaz Ayana an Olympics and World Champions and long distance legend Kenenisa Bekele.
Other Ethiopians who were inducted are World Champion Tirunesh Dibaba and former world 5000m record holder Mesert Defar.
South Africa duo of Caster Semanya and Wayde van Niekerk both Olympics and World Champions were also inducted though Nieker is still is still recovering from a knee injury, which he sustained during a celebrity rugby match last year.
Hardly 24 hours after Kenya was awarded the 2020 World under 20 Athletics Championships, the Kenyan government allocated Ksh1.5 Billion to jumpstart preparations of the event.
Sports and Heritage Cabinet Secretary Rashid Echesa said there’s not time to waste and that’s they are moving with speed and precision to ensure Kenya stages a world class event in Nairobi.
Addressing the press in his office in Nairobi, Echesa said the Steering Committee will be constituted next month to start preparations which will pave way for the formation of the Local Organising Committee.
The IAAF World U20 Championships Nairobi 2020 have been scheduled for July 7-12, 2020, after Nairobi’s candidacy was formally endorsed by the IAAF Council in Buenos Aires, Argentina on Thursday, July 26th 2018.
Last year, Kenya hosted the final edition of the IAAF World Under-18 Championships at the Moi International Sports Centre, Kasaran in Nairobi. The event drew huge crowds with IAAF commending the country for the well-attended competition.
Echesa said the success of the 2020 World under 20 Athletics Championships will give Kenya the much needed impetus and confidence of bidding for the 2025 World Athletics Championships.
“We started with the World under 18 now the under 20 event from there we shall be ripe to host the senior’s championships. We have shown that we are capable to host smaller events, and it has now reached a time when we should host big competitions,” said Echesa.
The Cabinet Secretary said Kenya became the first African nation to win the world championship in Beijing in 2015, adding that it is only fitting that Kenya should be the first country to bring the World championships to Africa.
The Qatari capital of Doha is set to host the 2019 IAAF World Championships before Eugene, Oregon, in USA stages the 2021 edition as Budapest, Hungary plays host in 2023.
The world governing athletics body IAAF is pushing to have Africa stage the 2025 World Athletics Championships.
Last year, Hamad Malboum Kalkaba, President of the Confederation of African Athletics (CAA), claimed in a statement, released following a meeting with IAAF President Sebastian Coe in Rabat, he believed that Algeria, Egypt, Kenya, Morocco, Nigeria and South Africa all had the potential to stage the IAAF World Championships in 2025.
Delta State in Nigeria is ready to host the 21st African Senior Championships, organisers have reported.
Confederation of African Athletics (CAA) technical director, Vivian Gungaram, expressed satisfaction with the level of preparedness of the country host the event.
Over 60 Kenyan athletes are expected to take part in the Championships to be staged in Asaba, from August 1 to 5.
Kenya was ranked second overall on the medal chart in the last edition of the championships two years ago in Durban, South Africa.
The country bagged eight gold, eight silver and eight bronze medals. Host South Africa reigned supreme with 33 medals, while Nigeria were third with 16 medals.
After inspecting the Stephen Keshi stadium where the competitions will be staged, Gungaram said the facilities meet the IAAF standards to host the championships.
“This is my second visit for inspection and a lot of work has been done and things are moving fast. I am sure it will be ready by this week,” she said.
After a not too encouraging outing at the last Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast, Australia, Kenyans are looking to make a big statement in Asaba with their top athletes.
Last month, Athletics Kenya President Jack Tuwei said the federation will take the Asaba 2018 event seriously since the top two runners from each discipline will qualify for the IAAF Continental Cup scheduled for Ostrava, Czech Republic on September 8-9.
World 800m record holder David Rudisha, four-time world champion Ezekiel Kemboi and Olympics 5,000m champion Vivian Cheruiyot, will be inducted into the Confederation of African Athletics (CAA) Hall of Fame.
The three athletes have one thing in common besides their feats at both national and international, they are all Olympic gold medalists in their respective races.
This accolade will be bestowed at the welcoming Dinner for athletes and officials participating at the 21st African Athletics Championships, Asaba 2018.
The event, organised by CAA and Delta State Capital Territory Development Agency is slated for July 31, 2018 at the Event Center, Asaba.
Nigeria’s golden girl, Blessing Okagbare and her team members who won Nigeria’s 4×200 gold at the 2016 IAAF World Relay in Bahamas will be inducted into the Confederation of African Athletics (CAA) Hall of Fame.
International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) President Sebastian Coe, CAA President Kalkaba Malboum and members of his executive committee, State Governor Dr. Ifeanyi Okowa, and top government officials at Federal and State level, diplomats and the LOC led by its Chairman Solomon Ogba will grace the occasion.
Ethiopia follows Nigeria with the highest number of athletes to be inducted. The list includes world record holder and champion Genzebe Dibabaa, Almaz Ayana an Olympics and World Champions and long distance legend Kenenisa Bekele.
Other Ethiopians on the list are, World Champion Tirunesh Dibaba and former world 5000m record holder Mesert Defar from Ethiopia will also be inducted into the Hall of Fame.
South Africa duo of Caster Semanya and Wayde van Nieckert both Olympics and World Champions will also be inducted.