Zuma says IAAF needs to explain

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Pretoria - President Jacob Zuma says government is awaiting an explanation from the International Association of Athletics Federation (IAAF) about the events that led to the controversial decision to perform gender tests on athlete Caster Semenya.

"In recognition of the supremacy of the rights, we wish to register our displeasure at the manner in which Ms Semenya has been treated," President Zuma said on Tuesday, congratulating Caster and her team mates on their performances.

The 18-year-old won the 800m race at the world championships in Berlin last week.

The President confirmed that the ministry of sport would follow up on the matter on behalf of government.

Sports Minister Makhenkesi Stofile has already written to the IAAF expressing government's disappointment in the manner in which the body had dealt with the matter.

"It is one thing to seek to ascertain whether or not an athlete has an unfair advantage over others. But it is another to publicly humiliate an honest, professional and competent athlete," President Zuma said.

He further extended his support to Caster and her family during this difficult period.

"Continue to walk tall, Mokgadi, we are proud of you. We love you. These events should not distract us from celebrating your outstanding achievement on the track," he said.

The President, hosting the team at the Presidential Guesthouse, joined a long list of high-profile South Africans in congratulating the team as it arrived back in South Africa on Tuesday.

He said the whole nation was rejoicing with Caster, Mbulaeni Mulaudzi and Khotso Mokoena who won gold and silver medals respectively.

"We extend our congratulations to all athletes who represented our country. We also acknowledge the contribution of the technical teams behind them, who contributed immensely to their success.

"Our athletes have demonstrated the spirit and dedication that has become characteristic of South Africans," President Zuma said, adding that their achievement was made more remarkable because they all came from humble beginnings.

He said the team had become role models.

"Aspiring young athletes will look to them for inspiration and encouragement. They have demonstrated that dreams can come true, but only if a person is prepared to put in the effort, remain steadfast and confront even the most difficult challenges."

He said Caster especially had shown that if you are determined to win, nobody and nothing can stop you or bring you down.

Caster told the media gathered at the event that all she did right was listen to her coach's advice.

"I did what my coach said I should do...he said to me you can do it man, you know! For the first time in my life it felt very good to be there running," she added.

Meanwhile, Mbulaeni said the moment other athletes allowed him to lead the race, he knew he would win. "When they gave me space to lead the race, I knew I was going to win that one," he said.

Athletics South Africa, in a briefing earlier in the day, claimed a South African media house was first to raise questions with the IAAF about Caster's gender.