Journalist Mike Hurst speaks about the Semenya article: An outstanding interview
I've just been fortunate enough to catch an interview with Mike Hurst, the journalist who wrote the piece on Caster Semenya being a hermaphrodite in an Australian newspaper. This was the article that has been the catalyst for the latest round of allegation, accusation, denial and debate on the issue of the 800m world champion. I still think there are some inaccuracies in the article, some 'liberal' assumptions over the action the IAAF may take, but those were addressed earlier today. This is a post on sports management.
For those not in the know, Mike Hurst was the journalist who broke the story, and his interview to Radio 702 Eyewitness News is one of the best I've heard on this subject, by a long way (you need to click on "audio" on the video box on the righ of the page to listen).
Perhaps unencumbered by the political baggage and the minefield of allegations and anger, he spells out some truths that the authorities really do need to hear. I highly recommend that you give it a listen, it's honest, insightful and direct, particularly his views on how the issue has been managed. Sometimes, it takes someone from outside to point out the obvious...
The reaction in SA - "third world war"
Juxtaposed against this is the reaction to the issue within SA. Following the pattern set in the last few weeks, officials here have been scathing in their criticisms. We even got threats of "a third world war" today. Seriously , those were the exact words of our Minister of Sport who threatened a third world war if the IAAF tried to ban Semenya from competing. You can listen to his words at this site, on the right hand side if you click on "video" in the embedded box (there is also a text summary of the Mike Hurst interview I mentioned above, and of course the audio file of Hurst speaking about his article).
To quote the Minister of Sport in response to the allegation that Semenya is intersex:
“That means nothing. There are many hermaphrodites in the world so what does it matter. This girl is running as a girl who has been accredited as a girl. Nobody has questioned that. She doesn’t have a womb, so what?"This might just rank right up there Leonard Chuene, President of ASA, calling scientists and universities "stupid" about two weeks ago, and it again betrays the complete lack of value that seems to be placed on facts, law and science in this case. Given that this blog was set up to try to provide some insight, this willful ignorance has to be mentioned. The fact of the matter is that it has to mean a great deal to the IAAF, and to the rest of the world's female athletes who run 800m, and to the sport as a whole. It matters a great deal, and unfortunately, South Africa is not the only nation that the IAAF thinks about. Much like 4-year olds who don't perceive that other people's needs exist, we have yet again adopted a position that says a great deal about professional sports management in this country.
The ethics of sex verification - a very valid argument
One can very well argue the issue and the ethics of sex verification testing, as many of you have done. Should we even bother? That's a separate question altogether, and there is a very real case to be made for allowing athletes to compete with any intersex condition, and many have made this point very well. Personally, I believe the line between male and female must be defended and so you cannot simply allow any condition under the guise of "she's just lucky in sport, in the same way as Usain Bolt or Michael Phelps is lucky in sport". I am afraid that doesn't wash with me - the difference between male and female categories, and the requirement for fair competition necessitates that extreme cases (and this may be one) are handled as serious by the governing body.
Disdain for process and mismanagement
However, to dismiss the whole issue as meaningless and to say that she should run as a girl because she has been accredited that way (by ASA, who wanted a gold medal and thus have a strong incentive to adopt this position, I might point out) is so disingenuous, it beggars belief. Also, in response to his statement "nobody has questioned that" - I'm afraid they very much have, and that is the issue.
This case seems destined to drag on and on, heading almost certainly for the CAS. And just for the record, I certainly don't wish to defend the violation of confidentiality that must sit, surely, within the IAAF, based on Hurst's reports. One leak was bad. A second, so soon after, that's a grave error and we've heard that 8 cases like this have been handled in the last 4 years. This should have been the ninth, dealt with confidentially, but Semenya was let down by the IAAF on that front, no question.
However, from within SA, the accusations and the complete disdain for process has done only harm, and I can only echo Mike Hurst's sentiments in his interview, where he suggested to ASA that they really should co-operate with the IAAF on this, and stop fighting ignorantly against what seem to be slowly emerging facts. At the very least, the human rights violations that ASA are so quick to accuse the IAAF of may be even more serious from them. Mike Hurst spoke about "games being played by ASA" - these are some serious games to be playing.
ASA should adopt a position supporting Semenya, condemning the leaks in confidentiality through the media (not the entire process) and then respect the authority and the scientific process being undertaken.
And time will reveal how ASA managed this situation before Berlin, which is where the real questions should be asked.