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.”