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Caster Semenya laments lack of support, hints at trying other sports

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South African runner Caster Semenya emphatically said Wednesday she does not plan to retire despite a ruling that she cannot compete in the near future.

In an interview from a women’s conference live-streamed by South African news organization Eyewitness News, Semenya gave two different career timelines, saying she may run until she’s about 35 but also saying she have 10 more years left, which would make her 38 upon retirement.

“I might be stopped from running now, but it’s just a temporary thing,” Semenya said. 

Semenya also spoke about empowering women, something she says other women have not done for her in her career.

If you want to empower women, it starts first amongst us,” Semenya said. “I always have this question about what is it we are doing to empower other women. Do we support them just by saying it, or do we support them physically or emotionally? 

Since I’ve been in sports, I’ve never really felt really supported. I’ve never felt recognized, mostly by women.” 

Semenya has dominated the 800-meter run for a decade, winning Olympic gold medals in 2012 and 2016 — the first when Russian runner Mariya Savinova failed a doping test — along with three world championships. But she has also been the focal point of an ethical and medical debate about allowing athletes with XY chromosomes to compete with women who have the more common XX pairing.

A few such questions have arisen over the years — most notably with Russian track and field athletes Tamara and Irina Press, who stopped competing when gender testing became mandatory — but Semenya’s case has prompted a large-scale discussion of how to allow athletes to compete while ensuring XX athletes have a chance to succeed.

The IAAF, track and field’s organizing body, decreed in 2018 that Semenya must take testosterone suppressants in order to compete. The Court of Arbitration for Sport upheld the rule in May, but Semenya took the rarely successful route of appealing the decision to Swiss courts. One court ordered the IAAF to suspend its rule, but a Swiss Federal Supreme Court judge overruled that decision, leaving Semenya unable to compete without undergoing testosterone treatment.

In Wednesday’s interview, Semenya playfully mused about other careers she might have taken, specifically a soldier or a spy, and suggested she might go back to playing soccer as she did in her youth. She also expressed an interest in rugby and cricket, two sports in which South Africa is a global power on the men’s side but less successful in women’s competition.

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