Athletics chief faces quit calls over Semenya

Caster Semenya celebrates her gold at the world championships in Berlin.
A South African government minister called on Leonard Chuene to resign after the national athletics chief admitted he knew Caster Semenya had undergone a gender test prior to the world championships.

Chuene was forced into a humiliating climbdown after previously denying that Semenya had been tested before going to Berlin to win the women’s 800m title. Deputy sports minister Gert Oosthuizen condemned Chuene in a statement released on Saturday evening. “Mr Chuene has not only lied to us as the ministry, but to the whole country, and this is not acceptable. “We do not agree with Mr Chuene’s insistence that he lied in Ms Semenya’s interest, in fact we are of the view that his lies were to Ms Semenya’s detriment. “In light of this, we now request the membership of ASA (Athletics South Africa) to not only take disciplinary action against Mr Chuene, but to fire him from his position as the president of ASA.” A defiant Chuene insisted on Sunday that he was going nowhere, saying: “I will face this head on. I won’t jump ship.” The gender tests on 18-year-old Semenya, which became public knowledge just before the 800m final in Berlin last month, have sparked a worldwide controversy with the official results still to be released by the IAAF, the governing body of athletics. Leading politicians from the ruling African National Congress (ANC), including president Jakob Zuma, have been quick to leap to her defense and the ministry for women has filed a complaint to the United Nations about her treatment. But the role of the ASA came under scrutiny when Semenya’s coach quit, alleging that she had actually been tested in South Africa prior to competing on the global stage. This was initially denied, but leaked e-mails to a South African newspaper appeared to confirm the story and Chuene was forced to backtrack.

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“I now realize that it was an error of judgment and I would like to apologize unconditionally,” Chuene said on Saturday, according to South Africa’s SAPA news agency. After receiving the results of the tests, the South Africa team doctor requested Semenya be withdrawn from the 800-meter race she ended up winning, Chuene said, but he refused to do it because the IAAF did not request a withdrawal. Semenya burst onto the world scene earlier this year with a massive improvement in her performances, but questions over her masculine build and deep voice led the IAAF to propose initial gender tests. She finished well clear of her rivals in the 800 in Berlin in a time of one minute 55.45 seconds — the best women’s time in the world this year. Since arriving back in South Africa to a heroine’s welcome, Semenya has been feted and even appeared on the cover of a women’s magazine as part of a glamour shoot. She attempted a return to competition at the South African national cross country championships, but dropped out before the finish. The IAAF has hinted it might not strip Semenya of the gold medal if the tests proved unfavorable, but she may be prevented from competing at the highest level again.