In an exclusive interview with CNN’s Amanda Davies, IAAF President Sebastian Coe shared his view on the Caster Semenya ruling ahead of the World Athletics Championships in Qatar next week.
In the interview, he maintains that the rulings on athletes with Disorders of Sex Development (DSD) “is not a personal issue” between himself and Semenya, who will not be able to defend her 800-meters title in Doha later this month.
Coe said he had not spoken directly to the South African sprinter about this subject but he hoped she would come back to the track and that athletes with “this condition” would take the IAAF medical guidance to allow them to do so.
Coe said that while in 30-40 years the landscape may change on this issue, but right now it was his “responsibility” to protect two classifications – male and female.
Below is the transcript from CNN World Sport:
Davies: The Semenya case, the case of athletes with DSD, it is not black or white. How tough was it for you to decide the right way forward in your mind?
Coe: The importance of trying to keep the sport together, particularly women’s sport. And that’s important to me. You know, our sport, we’re not sitting there like many other sports, trying to figure out how to give women profile. Women fill our stadiums. Sometimes they fill our stadiums in a way that men don’t. And that’s just the cycle of the sport. Our sport has always been 50/50, so it is really important for us that we do what we possibly can to keep that together. It may be in 30 years, 40 years time society takes a different view and we, you know, we have other classifications, I don’t know. But at this point, my responsibility was to protect two classifications and that’s what we feel we’ve done.
Davies: Do you have any regrets about how it was handled? How it panned out?
Coe: No, I think it’s been handled as sensitively as it possibly could be.
Davies: Have you spoken directly to Caster Semenya?
Coe: No. And I haven’t because this is not about an individual athlete, it’s not about a particular country, it’s not about a continent. and I don’t see this as a personal issue. I see this as the right decision and those regulations have been tabled for what I believe are the right reasons, and, most importantly, the majority of my council.
Davies: Do you have sympathy for Caster Semenya?
Coe: I have clearly sympathy for the efforts that we are trying to make, and all the federations that are supporting us are trying to make, to keep the sport together. That is the only objective.
Davies: Doesn’t sound like you’re… As an athlete, it feels like you should have more empathy and sympathy. Ultimately all she wants to do is do what she has done throughout her career… run.
Coe: Yes. And we’re doing everything we possibly can to allow her to do that.
Davies: Would you like to see her back on track?
Coe: I hope that she does come back onto the track and I do hope that the athletes with that condition will take the medical direction that allows them to do that.
Davies: How would you describe Caster Semenya, if you could sum her up in one word?
Coe: Look, I’m not going to get into individual athletes here. I’ve been really clear and it’s important that I don’t personalize this, I don’t individualize this. It is really important that the regulations that we tabled are the regulations that allow us to keep athletes with that condition in our sport at the international level.
Davies: Have you learned anything from this experience that you might take forward, or athletics should take forward, or maybe pose as questions, in terms of what athletics might have to address in future?
Coe: Look, no Federation, very few big organizations wanted to take the lead role in the challenges around DSD, and clearly, these inspire societal discussions as well. Transgender is, you know, is going to be a massive issue, not just for athletics but for so many other sports. I want athletics to always be at the forefront of thought leadership. I’m happy that our sport is brave enough to want to challenge these, you know, these issues and take them head-on. And that doesn’t always leave you in popular positions, but they do tend to be the right positions to be in.