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Saturday 4 May 2019

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FILE: South Africa's Caster Semenya takes a selfie with fans after winning gold in the women's 1500m final at Carrara Stadium during the Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast, Australia, April 10, 2018.

Eric Knecht

DOHA (Reuters) - Double Olympic champion Caster Semenya’s future was in doubt on Friday after she said she would not take medication to lower her testosterone levels to comply with new rules for the 800 metres.

There was confusion about how she will be able to compete in her specialist event again, as the 28-year-old South African declared “Hell no!” when asked if she would take testosterone-lowering medication.

At Friday’s Diamond League meeting in Doha, she was adamant she would be back in the Qatari capital in September to defend her 800 metres world title. But how she plans to do that without conforming to the new rules remained unclear.

Semenya easily won the 800 metres event on Friday, the last time she will be able to run that distance before the International Association of Athletics Federations’ testosterone limiting rules come into effect on May 8.

Under the new regulations, female athletes with high natural levels of testosterone wishing to compete in events from 400m to a mile must medically limit that level to under 5 nmol/L, double the normal female range of below 2 nmol/L.

Semenya, who has battled for years against the new rules and was competing two days after losing her appeal at the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), also refused to clarify suggestions that she would switch to a new distance that is exempt.

However, she said she would return to Doha in September to compete in the 800m at the world championships.

“Yes of course ... I will be here defending the world title,” she said, adamantly rejecting suggestions she would quit the sport altogether.

“I’m never going anywhere,” she said. “At the end of the day, it’s all about believing.

“God has decided my career and he will end my career, so no human can stop me from running. I understand there’s been a lot of controversy but that does not control anything.”

FAIR COMPETITION

In Wednesday’s ruling, CAS said the regulations were necessary for athletes with differences in sexual development (DSDs) to ensure fair competition. Semenya’s legal team said it was considering appealing that ruling.

The case is likely to have far-reaching consequences for women’s sport, and has split opinion around the globe.

“We’re doing it for the next generation. We want to inspire them,” Semenya said.

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“I believe in my legal team, they will do their best to get me back on the track.”

Following the CAS case, other sporting bodies may now choose to set their own parameters for participation by athletes with difference in sexual development (DSD) in their individual codes.

Semenya cruised home on Friday as she won her 30th successive race over the distance in one minute 54.98 seconds, nearly three seconds ahead of Burundi’s Francine Niyonsaba.

Given a warm reception by a sparse crowd at Doha’s Khalifa International Stadium as the runners were presented at the start, Semenya bided her time before taking the lead with around 300 metres left and then powered away from the rest of the field.

Niyonsaba, Olympic silver medallist in 2016, recently revealed she had similar DSD characteristics to Semenya.

If Semenya wants to continue with the 800m, she must now begin taking medication to lower her testosterone levels, based on the new rules. Testosterone is a hormone that increases muscle mass, strength and haemoglobin - which affects endurance.

Semenya could compete in longer distances not affected by the rule change.

She claimed the 5,000-metres title at the South African Athletics Championships last week, an event not covered by the IAAF regulations, but in a modest time of 16:05.97, well below the qualifying standard for the world championships of 15:22.00.

South Africa’s Vote Sees Colorful Ballot, With 48 Parties Competing
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It's going to be a colorful election in the Rainbow Nation.

Whether you're a Leninite, a free-market capitalist, a right-winger, an outspoken lefty, a Shariah-law fundamentalist or just a dedicated pot smoker, South Africa's May 8 ballot spans the entire political spectrum, offering something for nearly every type of voter.

Forty-eight political parties are contesting this year’s national election, leaving voters spoiled for choice beyond the top three: the African National Congress, the Democratic Alliance and the Economic Freedom Fighters parties.

The smaller, newer parties have wildly different aims -- some, like the African Transformation Movement, are church-based and say their platform revolves around human rights. Others are aligned with more traditional political views, or have niche issues to push in national government.

But they all seem to share one thing: dissatisfaction with the political status quo. The head the ATM party, Vuyo Zungula, says they couldn’t get the change they wanted through partnership with the ruling ANC. So they started their own party, through the South African Council of Messianic Churches in Christ.

The party, Zungula says, is pro-gay-rights and doesn't want to change existing laws that allow abortion. Instead, he says, the party wants to show South Africans the meaning of service.

Members of the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) party make their way to attend a May Day rally in Alexandra Township, South Africa, May 1, 2019.
Members of the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) party make their way to attend a May Day rally in Alexandra Township, South Africa, May 1, 2019.

“We believe that what the people of South Africa truly need now, they need people who will genuinely serve them," the 31-year-old presidential candidate told VOA as about 100 of his followers packed into a hall in Soweto for the party's final rally.

While it’s likely the large, powerful ANC will dominate this election, analysts say the small parties play a valuable role in government. South Africa’s system of proportional representation means small parties don’t need a large number of votes - as few as 50,000 are all it takes - to get one of 400 parliamentary seats.

That may include the scrappy Dagga Party - “dagga” is local slang for marijuana. The pro-legalization party was behind a widely celebrated, headline-grabbing Supreme Court ruling last year that saw the decriminalization of cannabis in South Africa. But the party missed the election registration deadline this year, so it instead joined forces with the brand-new African Democratic Change party, which is on the ballot.

Professor and analyst Ivor Sarakinsky says it’s this diversity that makes South Africa’s parliament great.

“Those parties might be springboards to ask tough questions to the new parliament and the new administration after the election," he told VOA. "If they get support, they won’t necessarily get big numbers, but their presence will add some real spice to the parliament that’s going to be formed shortly.”

A supporters of the ruling African National Congress (ANC) attends a campaign meeting with the South African president and president of the ANC, in Mitchells Plain, Cape Town, South Africa May 3, 2019, ahead of general elections.
A supporters of the ruling African National Congress (ANC) attends a campaign meeting with the South African president and president of the ANC, in Mitchells Plain, Cape Town, South Africa May 3, 2019, ahead of general elections.

That’s exactly what the tiny, six-week-old Capitalist Party hopes to do. The party is only fielding 10 candidates -- not enough to dictate terms on their own, but enough, their leader, Kanthan Pillay, believes, to play a valuable role in government because of their candidates' wealth of business experience.

“All of the political parties out there are offering variations on the same recipe," he said. "They’re all promising that government is going to create more jobs, they’re all promising that they’re going to cut back on government spending, and they’re all promising better levels of education. We don’t believe that they have the capability to deliver on any of those things, simply because they lack the expertise to do so.”

On the opposite side of that spectrum is another new entrant, the Socialist Revolutionary Workers’ Party, which is part of the nation's largest single trade union, the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa. Unions have traditionally backed the ANC, but spokeswoman Phakamile Hlubi-Majola says this party was born of frustration with the ruling party.

“We are the only political party in South Africa that is fighting for the destruction of the capitalist system," she told VOA. "We believe that we represent the aspirations of the 23 million members of the working class of South Africa whose aspirations have, frankly, been ignored by the capitalist ANC government for the last 25 years.”

At the end of the day, says analyst Angelo Fick, the ANC will win more seats than any other party. But the varied opposition, he says, is a reflection of a healthy democracy.

“The plethora of choices in front of the South African electorate is not, for me, a sign of too much, too soon," he said. "It is, in fact, a sign of the vibrancy of the contestation around ideas."

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