Caster Semenya vs IAAF: Two Nations Reactions and the Rights of Queer Africans

The Court for Arbitration for Sport (CAS) recently ruled on the case of Caster Semenya vs the International Association of Athletics Federation (IAAF) where she was challenging  a rule that requires the suppression of natural testosterone in the athlete’s body (and ultimately other female athletes as well). The CAS ruled in favour of the IAAF and the ruling took effect on May 8th.

This ruling was received with a lot of criticism globally but most importantly, the South Africans and their government, the athlete’s home country. The South African Ministry of Sport declared that they would stand behind Semenya, and would make an appeal against the ruling as it violated the athlete’s human rights. There has been a unanimous thought in the criticism of the ruling globally, finding it to be in violation of human rights to force athletes with higher levels of natural testosterone in their bodies to have to medically suppress this in order to take part in certain events like the 400m and 800m races.

Many thoughts and opinions have been expressed with people agreeing that this ruling was discriminatory and unfair and particularly racist and homophobic towards Semenya who is a black, African cis-gender lesbian woman. I personally find it insane that a naturally occurring happening such as having higher testosterone levels has to be suppressed medically because some people feel aggrieved by the added advantage it gives such athletes. It is not as if the athlete was taking testosterone supplements, this was a natural occurrence and I find it to be a severe act of body policing by the IAAF.  

I have seen arguments online saying that if indeed sports should be regulated in a way that polices the body of sportspeople, then other sportsmen such as Michael Phelps should also be policed for having an added advantage by the physique of his body and also his lung structure. What stood out for me, that I hold dear to my heart is the way South Africans have been loyal and patriotic in standing by Semenya and supporting her in her decision to not follow the rules and take suppressants.

Few days after the ruling taking effect, Athletics Kenya decided to drop two  athletes from competing in the IAAF World Relays championships taking place in Japan. The athletes, Maximilla Imali and Evangeline Makena have shown from blood work to have high levels of testosterone. In a statement, the Athletics Kenya director, Paul Mutwii said, “We could not risk travelling with the two athletes after the ruling on the restriction of testosterone levels on female runners took place.”

One athlete, Margaret Nyairera Wambui gave her opinion on this stating that the athletes felt rejected. She added that they did not dope and that their testosterone levels were just natural and therefore they should not be punished for it.

I found the  Athletics Kenya decision ridiculous and outrageous. They were so quick to drop these athletes without any regard or compassion for their humanity and their rights. They did not even try to put up a fight for them against the unfair ruling. Where was the loyalty? Where was the patriotism? These women go above and beyond, pushing themselves in representing their country, our country, Kenya, to the best of their abilities. Aren’t our athletes our pride? Why are we so ready to agree with the dehumanization of women?

Martin Luther King said ‘our lives begin to end the day we become silent on things that matter.’ Yet Kenyans remain silent on this. Most are even unaware of this because our media isn’t making enough noise about this.

“Silence in the face of injustice is complicity with the oppressor.” – Ginetta Sagan

The difference between South Africa and Kenya reaction to the discriminatory ruling is also partly a reflection in accepting persons that fall under the LGBTQIA+ spectrum. South Africa has legalized gay marriages and fights for the inclusion and equal rights for all persons despite their sexual orientation and gender identity. Women with higher levels of testosterone like Semenya are naturally more masculine and sometimes happen to be of the same sex sexual orientation. This may be why Kenya was so quick to drop these athletes. In Kenya, people who fall under the LGBTQIA+ spectrum are still not guaranteed their full human rights.

This comes at a time when the LGBTQIA community in Kenya  await a High Court decision in a case that is seeking the decriminalization of two sections in the penal code (Section 162 and 165) which criminalize sexual behaviour that is deemed to be against the order of nature such as same sex relationship. The ruling on the decrim case is on May 24, 2019.

We are filled with anxiety as we await this ruling and hope that they do not postpone it as they did previously. We hope that they grant us our freedom and our basic human rights.

The rush to drop athletes who have higher testosterone levels is a failure on our part to protect and push for rights for all.  We must unite in our outrage at this injustice, come together in fighting for the rights of our women athletes and take on the fight against the IAAF and their ridiculous ruling. Let us learn something from South Africa and be one in solidarity to defend the affected athletes.

Nyaguthi Kioi is a Lawyer, Queer Feminist and Human Rights activist working on sexual & Gender based Violence. 

Nyaguthi Kioi

Human Rights Activist majoring on Sexual & Gender based Violence. Lawyer. Queer Feminist.

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