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South African Athletics Board To Challenge Suspension

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The South African Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee (SASCOC) says it will defend in court its decision to suspend the entire board of Athletics South Africa (ASA) over the handling of the sex testing of Caster Semenya, the country's 800m world champion.

Gideon Sam, President of SASCOC tells VOA that the board of ASA has already served notice they intend to challenge SASCOC's decision to suspend them. Sam says SASCOC will defend its decision, but adds that ASA is trying to forestall a legitimate disciplinary process.

"We are just saying that stand aside, so that the disciplinary can work on this, and then if the disciplinary committee comes out with a sanction, you can then appeal that sanction," said Gideon Sam. "But to stop the process in its tracks right now, you know for us it is a question of, so be it, then we meet in court."

In August the IAAF announced that it has sex tests done on 18-year-old Caster Semenya following a complaint she was not female. The information was leaked to the media just hours before Semenya was due to compete in the 800-meter women's final at the world championship event in Berlin. Semenya went on to win the race in spectacular fashion.

The president of ASA, Leonard Chuene, responded publicly with outrage, saying the IAAF had exceeded its authority and then leaked the information. But Chuene failed to tell South Africans that ASA had already tested Semenya before the team left for Berlin and that the team doctor advised him to withdraw the athlete from the competition.

In September after several local media organizations revealed the truth, Chuene admitted he had lied. He said he had done so to protect Semenya, but few seemed to accept that explanation, with South Africans far and wide calling him dishonest, deceitful and self-serving.

Initial support for Chuena and his ASA board from the country's political elite soon faded and late last month the ruling African National Congress demanded an apology. That apology came Thursday, and two hours later SASCOC imposed the suspension.

SASCOC'S Sam tells VOA Chuene and his board have embarrassed the South African sports movement along with the rest of the country, and brought athletics into disrepute.

"So we just felt as an administrator, a senior administrator at that, there is no way that we can allow a leader of one our flagship organizations to behave like that," he said. "Now as far as the other members on that management team, we just felt that they are complicit in the whole thing in terms of not having said no."

Sam adds that Chuene and his board failed to comply with their basic function of putting the athlete first.

"Because what we are saying is that together with the people who are on the management team they had very little regard for the person, the athlete, and in our view, if we say that our motto at SASCOC is the athlete first, they should have considered that the interest of the athlete comes first," said Sam.

Sam says they are also engaging the IAAF on its handling of the Semenya case. He tells VOA SASCOC is not questioning the IAAF decision to test the young woman, but he says the fact that details of an extremely personal and intimate nature were leaked to the media, is reprehensible and unprofessional.