Sport

Caster vs IAAF: Meet the women who initiated the fightback

2019-02-25 17:41

Had it not been for a behind-the-scenes initiative of two like-minded women, Caster Semenya would not have had the financial muscle to challenge the International Association of Athletics Federations IAAF.

Semenya’s legal representative Greg Nott has praised Bongiwe Mlangeni and Gloria Serobe for heeding the call to help raise funds from scratch to take the fight to the IAAF over their proposed regulations on the classification of women runners.

Mlangeni is the executive director at the Social Justice Initiative (SJI) and Serobe is the chief executive of Women Investment Portfolio Holdings, which is involved primarily in mining, infrastructure and financial services businesses in South Africa and internationally through its subsidiaries.

Nott, of Norton Rose Fulbright, said it took his team 10 months to raise the required funding to put a case together to challenge the world athletics governing body.

“From our first call, Bongi was of help and stayed the course when we were looking to finance the challenge,” Nott told City Press.

“Gloria – a great supporter and friend of Caster’s – was the first to give money and tried hard to get others to support and contribute.”

Gloria Serobe

When asked how much was initially raised, Nott said he could not quote the figures due to confidentiality, but said it was “a good and a helpful start”.

Mlangeni, meanwhile, said the SJI immediately identified Semenya’s fight as a social justice cause.

“To access justice can be so costly and this is something that has stopped other people from pursuing their cases. We felt we had an obligation to help Caster take up the fight.

“It’s not just about her, it is about discrimination and violation of human rights,” said Mlangeni, adding that the SJI had mobilised funding from more than 70 organisations that support social justice work in South Africa.

Last week, through the department of sport, government said it would spend about R25 million in its efforts to help Semenya in her fight against the IAAF.

The Olympic 800m champion came out this week to confront the massive organisation.

In a statement issued by her legal team on Thursday, Semenya said: “While I have no knowledge of what was paid by government to its legal and medical team in respect of its own case, my personal representation has been funded mainly by private funders.”

The 28-year-old noted that the portion funded by government was “a small fraction of the amount that has been quoted in the media”.

Semenya also distanced herself from a petition that uses her name as part of a sign-up donation campaign.

“I have no knowledge of and have no affiliation to this petition, and it has not been sanctioned by me. I will not be receiving any of these funds and donors are advised accordingly.”

Semenya said she was grateful for all the local and global support she was receiving.

Bongiwe-Mlangeni
Bongiwe Mlangeni

She and her strong legal team – supported by witnesses from other legal entities, as well as medical experts – spent the past week arguing the case before the Court of Arbitration for Sport in Lausanne, Switzerland.

Semenya is opposing the proposed IAAF regulations that seek to force women runners with naturally high testosterone levels to lower them using drugs before competing.

Sport Minister Tokozile Xasa flew out on Wednesday to join the delegation in Lausanne.

Her office announced on Thursday that she had hosted “a dinner with the legal teams of Athletics SA and Caster Semenya”, and used the session to “convey messages of goodwill from President Cyril Ramaphosa and 57 million South Africans”.

She also met members of the international media to “reiterate the South African position with regard to the case”.

The outcome of the case is expected by the end of next month.

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March 17 2019