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Semenya Arrives in South Africa to Rapturous Welcome


The shy 18-year-old South African athlete who has been placed at the center of a storm of controversy over her sex, has arrived home to an enthusiastic welcome. South African President Jacob Zuma says his government is seeking an explanation from the International Association of Athletics Federations about her treatment.

Makgodi Caster Semenya and her fellow athletes arrived to choirs, enthusiastic crowds, and outraged speeches from politicians of the ruling African National Congress. She seemed overwhelmed at times, but occasionally managed a broad smile.

The IAAF says Semenya was subjected to sex testing three weeks ago, following complaints from a member body, but have refused to say exactly what the complaint was or who made it.

The information was leaked to the media early last week, shortly before Semenya was due to run in the final of the women's 800-meter event, which she won in the fastest time of the year. The body said during the weekend there had been a breach of confidentiality and apologized for treating the matter insensitively.

Well-known politician Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, a member of parliament, told a media briefing that tests were an insult. "To the world out there who conducted those pseudo tests to test our gender, they can stuff their insult. This is our little girl and nobody is going to perform any tests on her," she said.

Semenya and the other athletes were invited to lunch by President Jacob Zuma who praised the young woman for her achievement in the face of adversity. "As we mark woman's month, she has showcased woman's achievement, power and strength. Miss Semenya has also reminded the world of the importance of the rights to human dignity and privacy which should be enjoyed by all human beings," she said.

Mr. Zuma says these rights are entrenched in the South African constitution and the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights. He said that consequently South Africa wishes to register its disapproval of the manner in which Semenya has been treated and said the Minister of Sport and Recreation has written to the IAAF to request an explanation. "It is one thing 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," he said.

Speaking for the first time since the outbreak of the controversy, Semenya spoke animatedly of the final she won. "I do not know what to say. It is pretty good to win a gold medal and bring it home. I did not know I can win that race, but from the first time in my life the experience, the world championships, the seniors, I could not believe it," she said.

President Zuma dismissed suggestions the outcome of the tests would result in the IAAF withdrawing the gold medal from Semenya.

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