Caster-Gate: the real Villainsby Carlos Amato / 25.08.2009
So Butana Komphela reckons Caster Semenya is “the new Saartjie Baartman”. The comparison is an insult to both women. It trivialises Baartman’s story, and cynically sensationalises Semenya’s.
Baartman was a slave, lured across the ocean and humiliated until her death at 25 by the grotesque pseudoscientific racism and sexism of early 19th-century Europe.
Semenya’s humiliation is not remotely comparable — and in any case, Europeans are not to blame for it. The IAAF had no choice in the end but to require gender tests (though they should have ensured their intentions were not leaked to the media). She does have a freakishly masculine physique, especially for one so young, and it’s their duty to ensure fair competition. End of story.
The true culprits are the bungling sinecurists of Athletics South Africa, who blithely despatched an 18-year-old rural girl to inevitable glory and inevitable shame. In the absence of responsible foresight on the part of ASA, Caster’s humiliation was always going to happen. An athletics writer at the newspaper I work for predicted it a month ago.
If ASA boss Leonard Chuene and his executives really cared about Semenya’s dignity, they would long ago have quietly satisfied the IAAF that she is a legitimate competitor – by documenting the previous gender tests she has passed, and, if necessary, arranging for a discreet IAAF test. They did not do so.
Then they spurned a second chance to protect her.
Ten days ago, the IAAF instructed its Africa medical representative Harold Adams, who is also the South African team’s doctor in Berlin, to ask Chuene to withdraw Semenya from the Berlin championships.
If Chuene had complied, tests could have been conducted quietly, the media could have been honestly and tactfully briefed, and Semenya would have been back on the track within weeks. She’s young. A decade of medals awaits her.
But Chuene, with his customary pomposity, refused to withdraw Semenya because the IAAF had broken protocol by not contacting ASA bosses directly.
Now the high horses are galloping. Sanctimony is an old camouflage for official fuckwittedness. Chuene has resigned from the IAAF council in a hypocritical huff. Komphela, Julius Malema, the DA’s Wilmot James and the once-impressive Patricia de Lille have emitted a volley of cheap, lazy race rhetoric that serves only to debase real analysis of real racism.
“Just because she is black and she surpassed her European competitors, there is all this uproar,” said Komphela.
Oh, please. Has Komphela watched any track athletics during the last four decades? Tell that theory to the ghost of Jesse Owens, who conquered Berlin in 1936 under Hitler’s twitching snor. That war has been won; Komphela insults black heroes of old by implying that their profound victories never happened.
The IAAF is not examining Usain Bolt or Mbulaeni Mulaudzi’s chromosomes – because they don’t look or speak like women.
In their puny way, blowhards like Chuene and Komphela weaken Africa’s pursuit of dignity by spouting their embarrassing, paranoid, opportunistic bullshit. Let’s fight battles that actually exist. And let’s look after our children, Semenya included.