PRIVATE AND CONFIDENTIAL
TEAM DOCTOR’S REPORT ON DEVELOPMENTS AROUND MS CASTER SEMENYA RE THE 2009 ATHLETICS WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS IN BERLIN, GERMANY
This report is presented by Dr Harold Adams. I was the Team Doctor for the South African athletics team to the 2009 IAAF World Athletics Championships, held in Berlin, Germany. I have been the Chief Medical Officer of Athletics South Africa (ASA) since 1995, to date. For completeness, I am also one of the official doctors of the President of the Republic of South Africa.
The developments around Ms Caster Semenya started a few weeks before the above-mentioned World Championships, and continued at the said World Championships, and beyond.
For purposes of clarity, I have broken my report into these three periods, namely:
(i)Pre World Championships Period,
(ii)World Championships Period,
(iii)Post World Championships Period,
(iv)Important points to note, and
2.PRE WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS PERIOD
On 3 August 2009 I received a self-explanatory email from the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) (please see attached document marked “A”). On 5 August 2009 I forwarded the said email to the General Manager of ASA, Mr Molatelo Malehopo, by way of the self-explanatory forwarding email from me (please see attached document marked “B”). The President of ASA, Mr Leonard Chuene, was also emailed copies of the correspondence I sent to Mr Malehopo.
On 5 August 2009 I received a response from ASA’s General Manager (please see attached document marked “C”). On the basis of the said response, I suggested the names of three gynaecologists to the ASA’s General Manager, for him to choose one of them to do the required preliminary tests on Ms Caster Semenya.
I also suggested that ASA’s General Manager arrange relevant counseling for Ms Semenya before the tests are done. ASA’s General Manager later gave me the name of Ms Laraine Lane as the person to counsel Ms Semenya. Ms Lane is an ASA Executive Board member, and is a psychologist by profession. Before Ms Lane did counseling on Ms Semenya, I fully briefed her on the nature of the tests to be conducted on Ms Semenya, and I advised her to get all the relevant correspondence regarding the tests from ASA’s General Manager.
ASA’s General Manager informed me that Ms Lane eventually did the counseling on Ms Semenya (this much was confirmed with me by Mr Chuene). The tests were conducted on Ms Semenya on or about 7 August 2009, at the Medforum Clinic, in Pretoria.
On 8 August 2009 I left South Africa together with Ms Semenya to join the South African team at camp somewhere outside Berlin.
3.WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS PERIOD
On 15 August 2009 I received a telephone call from the Medforum Clinic that the provisional results of the tests done on Ms Semenya were available, but that
I needed Ms Semenya’s written approval to have them relayed to me telephonically. I secured the necessary permission from Ms Semenya and I had the results relayed to me telephonically.
On 15 August 2009 I met Mr Chuene at his hotel in Berlin to discuss the results of Ms Semenya’s tests. I told Mr Chuene that the results are not good, and that there was strong evidence for me to make a recommendation that Ms Semenya be withdrawn from competing at the World Championships. I told Mr Chuene that the withdrawal would give us an opportunity to be able to take this process forward back in South Africa, together with all parties concerned (Ms Semenya, her family, ASA, the IAAF, Government, and any other approved interested parties).
I also strongly advised Mr Chuene that I would not like to see any tests done on Ms Semenya in Germany (during the World Championships), as the IAAF would require. The reason for my advice was that the tests might prove too traumatic for Ms Semenya to handle, especially without the necessary support of family and friends around her. The other reason was that being tested at the World Championships would not give her enough time to consult extensively and perhaps arrive at a decision to refuse the testing if she felt it would infringe on her privacy and personal rights.
Mr Chuene accepted my recommendation and agreed to Ms Semenya’s withdrawal from the World Championships, and that was the end of our meeting.
The following day Mr Chuene informed me that he had changed his mind about Ms Semenya’s withdrawal. He told me he changed his mind after consulting with high-powered politicians back home in South Africa, as well as the team’s Chef de Mission, Mr Kakata Maponyane, who also happens to be ASA’s Deputy President. Mr Chuene said if we withdrew Ms Semenya what explanation would we give to the politicians back home.
Mr Chuene then requested me to set up a meeting with the IAAF’s medical team in Berlin. I asked him why he did not discuss the matter with the President of the IAAF, and agree with him on how to take the process forward, because this was such a delicate matter. Mr Chuene said talking to the President of the IAAF would be his last option, he first wanted to politicize the whole thing, and to cause confusion within the IAAF medical team.
I arranged a meeting for Mr Chuene with the IAAF’s medical team. He told me to keep quiet in that meeting, and that him and Mr Maponyane would defend the country’s position in the said meeting. Mr Chuene told the IAAF’s medical team that withdrawing Ms Semenya was not acceptable to top-level South African politicians who are also in government, and that if the IAAF insisted on Ms Semenya’s withdrawal they would face the wrath of the South African government, because it would not hesitate to take the IAAF to the highest court on the land.
The IAAF then gave Mr Chuene two options, namely:
(i)That Ms Semenya could compete at the World Championships, on condition that she accepted that she would be subjected to the IAAF’s Gender Verification tests in Berlin, and that if any unfair advantage was detected on the part of Ms Semenya, she would be stripped of any medal she might have won at the Championships; OR
(ii)That Ms Semenya is withdrawn from the World Championships. If this was to be the option exercised, the IAAF was comfortable with ASA handling the matter of the Gender Verification Tests back in South Africa, and a report on the said tests sent to the IAAF.
Mr Chuene chose the first option. After the meeting I expressed my reservation about his choice. A day after the meeting with the IAAF medical team the IAAF conducted tests on Ms Semenya.
4.POST WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS PERIOD
In this period a lot of things were said by a lot of people regarding the matter of Ms Caster Semenya. As I sat and listened I became more and more uncomfortable as some people distorted the facts of the matter. I eventually thought that instead of keeping quiet, the right thing for me to do was to give some facts on the matter to the Minister of Sport and Recreation. I subsequently gave the Minister some documents to this effect.
During this period, on two occasions Mr Chuene requested me to be present at his media conferences to confirm his assertion that no tests (related to gender) were conducted on Ms Semenya in South Africa before the World Championships. As he put it, my endorsement of his assertion would put the matter to rest once and for all. I turned down both of Mr Chuene’s requests because I could not endorse a lie.
5.IMPORTANT POINTS TO NOTE
(i)The IAAF has conducted a number of Gender Verification Tests in the recent past, and none of them entered the public domain. As a matter of fact, the identities of the athletes involved in the said tests are not known in the sports fraternity. In other words, the affected athletes remain fully protected.
This confidentiality can only be maintained through a close cooperation between the IAAF and its member federation, in our case ASA. Sadly, this was not the case in Ms Semenya’s case.
(ii)For me, the unfortunate and regrettable turning point in Ms Semenya’s case happened at the time that Mr Chuene reversed his decision in which he had agreed to have Ms Semenya withdrawn from competing at the World Championships.
In the first place, Ms Semenya’s withdrawal from the World Championships would not have caused a public outcry, firstly, because Ms Semenya was “unknown” in sporting circles in our country prior to the World Championships. Secondly, because it is a common thing to withdraw athletes from teams prior to, and during competition, due to medical reasons.
For example, two athletes were withdrawn from the South African team in Berlin due to medical reasons. Mr Chuene agreed to their withdrawal without consulting with “high-powered politicians”. Why he deemed it necessary to consult with “high-powered politicians” in the case of Ms Semenya is beyond my comprehension.
I sincerely believe that as president of ASA, and an IAAF Council member, Mr Chuene is more informed on, and well-versed in athletics matters, and was therefore in a better position to evaluate the decision on Ms Semenya compared to the “high-powered politicians” he purportedly consulted with. In fact, relying on the advice of “high-powered politicians” has the effect of compromising the said “high-powered politicians”.
In the second place, contrary to what he would have us believe, Mr Chuene knew very well that the withdrawal of Ms Semenya from the World Championships would have better served to protect Ms Semenya from the adverse publicity, and the terrible pain she suffered because of such publicity.
In addition to this, and more importantly, the withdrawal would have allowed ASA to consult fully with Ms Semenya in terms of the way forward. It would also have given Ms Semenya an opportunity to consult extensively, to know what options are available to her, and to make a well-informed decision on what option to exercise going forward. All the necessary support structures for Ms Semenya would have been put in place before the chosen option is implemented.
If agreed, the Gender Verification Tests would have been conducted privately and confidentially, and the results of such tests handled in a similar manner. Ms Semenya would in all probability have been back in competition sometime in 2010, with a better appreciation and understanding of her situation, and better able to deal with it, psychologically and otherwise.
This is what the advice to withdraw Ms Semenya sought to achieve in the long run, and this much was communicated to Mr Chuene. I still believe that it was foolhardy for Mr Chuene to change his decision to withdraw Ms Semenya.
Mr Chuene conveniently came up with the excuse that the reason he changed his decision was because I did not give him Ms Semenya’s written official tests results. Apart from the fact that I did not have Ms Semenya’s official written test results myself because the only person who could have been given such results is Ms Semenya and nobody else, I have a number of difficulties with Mr Chuene’s stated excuse for changing his mind.
Firstly, Mr Chuene did not ask me for Ms Semenya’s official written tests results. If he had, I would have informed him that official written results are Ms Semenya’s prerogative.
Secondly, as already stated I have been the Chief Medical Officer and team doctor of ASA for more than 13 years, and in all these years I have conducted myself in a highly professional manner, and I have never tarnished the reputation of ASA, or brought the sport into disrepute in any way.
I have also been a team doctor for both athletics and multi-coded Olympics, Commonwealth Games, All Africa Games, etc.) national teams, and in all these cases I conducted myself with distinction. The question is why did Mr Chuene suddenly doubt my credibility when I have such credentials behind my name? Why would I lie to him and put a young talented athlete’s sporting career on the line, and in the process put my own medical career on the line?
Thirdly, Mr Chuene did not have a problem with the withdrawal of two other athletes from competing in the World Championships. The big question is why did Mr Chuene have such big a problem with the withdrawal of Ms Semenya, to the extent that he deemed it necessary to consult with “high-powered politicians” on Ms Semenya’s withdrawal, but not on the withdrawal of the other two athletes?
Did the possibility of a medal in the case of Ms Semenya reign supreme in Mr Chuene’s mind, and clouded his judgement, and relegated Ms Semenya’s interest, welfare and protection to an insignificant level in his mind? Did Mr Chuene consult with the “high-powered politicians” to merely get an endorsement and political backing for his pre-conceived plan of getting a medal at all costs, as he stated himself that he wanted to “politicize the issue and cause confusion”?
(iii)I sincerely believe that Mr Chuene’s decision to refuse that Ms Semenya be withdrawn was, with due respect, reckless, short-sighted, and grossly irresponsible.
I think that by the time Mr Chuene realized how much he had compromised Ms Semenya, and how much trouble he had put himself into, it was too late, and there was no turning back.
I believe that Mr Chuene made a conscious decision that the only thing left for him to do to save his skin was to resort to lying, not realizing that this had the negative effect of dragging Ms Semenya deeper and deeper into the controversy, thus inflicting more pain on her.
It is obvious to me that Mr Chuene’s orgy of lies had absolutely nothing to do with Ms Semenya, but had all to do with Mr Chuene’s selfish interest to cover his back, at the expense of Ms Semenya’s welfare. I sincerely hope that Mr Chuene will one day meet his comeuppance for his actions.
I have no doubt in my mind that this whole thing has caused Ms Semenya a lot of pain and suffering. For my part, I am sorry if I unintentionally contributed to the problem in any negative way.
I would like to take this opportunity to apologise, on behalf of team management of the South African team to Berlin, for us collectively failing to protect Ms Semenya. I would like to hope that all of us have learnt our lessons well through this terrible experience, and that we will ensure that such a thing never happens again.
I am sincerely looking forward to the whole thing being brought to its logical and final conclusion, sooner rather than later. I also hope that Ms Semenya will be able to summon enough courage and fortitude and succeed in putting this behind her at some point in time, and find her way back to the track to do what she does best, which is to continue to make our country proud of her.
THE LETTER FIRST APPEARED ON MAIL & GUARDIAN ONLINE BUT WAS LATER REMOVED. UNFORTUNATELY, IT WAS REMOVED AFTER I DOWNLOADED THE LETTER.