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South Africa athletics chief admits lying about Semenya tests

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - The head of South Africa’s athletics body confirmed Saturday runner Caster Semenya was subjected to gender tests before her world championship victory and said he had lied about the tests to protect her privacy.

Caster Semenya gestures to a crowd gathered to greet her at the OR Tambo International Airport in Johanneburg August 25 ,2009. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko

Athletics South Africa (ASA) President Leonard Chuene said he denied the tests took place because athletics’ world governing body, IAAF, had made no request to withdraw her from August’s world championships in Berlin due to gender concerns.

The International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF), which ordered the tests, said last month an investigation into 18-year-old Semenya’s gender was under way after her improved form this year.

“Had the ASA admitted its knowledge at the time, it would have compromised Caster Semenya’s privacy ... I believed at the time that my consistent denial would help protect her,” Chuene told a news conference.

“At no stage did IAAF come to us procedurally in the manner that they must come to us, and say ... we will need you to withdraw the child because of that.”

The runner clocked 1 minute, 55.45 seconds in the women’s 800 meters race in Berlin, the year’s fastest time and a personal best by more than a second.

No decision on the tests is expected until late November, but the IAAF has declined to confirm a report in Australia’s Daily Telegraph newspaper which said she had both male and female sexual characteristics.

The debate over Semenya’s gender has angered many South Africans, who accuse the IAAF of racism for ordering the tests, saying her broad shoulders and imposing musculature were common in women’s athletics.

Chuene said he had ignored a request from ASA team doctor Harold Adams to withdraw Semenya from the championships over gender concerns because the tests had needed to be kept confidential.

“There was nothing, either in our own constitution, in terms of our own procedures and regulations, there was nothing that says you will prevent a child from running, so I had no instruments to do that,” he said.

“If we did not allow this girl to run ... we would be confirming to ourselves that the girl is not normal.”

Reporting by Serena Chaudhry; Editing by Sophie Hares