Toronto honour for champion South African athlete

By RON FANFAIR

South Africa world champion athlete, Caster Semenya, whose stunning world track & field 800-metre victory in Berlin last August was mired in questions about her gender, will be honoured in Toronto later this month.

The Toronto-based South Africa Women for Women (SAWW) will honour the star athlete for sporting excellence at its annual awards ceremony on November 27 at the downtown Sheraton Hotel.

She easily won the gold medal in the middle distance event in 1:55.45 shortly after it emerged that she had been told to take gender tests.

The International Amateur Athletics Federation (IAAF), the sport’s governing body, has refused to comment on leaked reports claiming she has both male and female sexual organs.

The University of Pretoria Sports Science student was forced to put her exams on hold because of trauma she has experienced by the controversy. The university has allowed her to take the exams, which start on November 4, when she’s mentally ready.

“We believe that this South African Women’s Day award celebrates not only Semenya’s sporting victory but also her success in the face of extreme personal challenges,” said SAWW founding president Carole Adriaans. “Her courage clearly illustrates that women do not have to let others define who they are, what they are and what they can achieve. Women in all walks of life would do well to be inspired by her example.”

Semenya will be the 80th achiever to be honoured by the organization in the past 13 years and the first under the age of 20.

“She exudes excellence and SAWW felt compelled to honour this young woman now for her remarkable achievements,” added Adriaans.

Semenya, the 2008 Commonwealth Youth Games 800-metre gold medalist and 2009 African Junior championships 800 and 1500-metre winner, will be accompanied by her coach, Sipho Michael Seme.

Ontario Public Service chief diversity officer, Noelle Richardson, will be the keynote speaker at the gala award ceremony that’s part of a day of activities that includes a women’s summit that seeks to empower and improve the status and diversity of business women in corporate Canada.

Speakers and panelists include Ontario Fairness Commissioner Jean Augustine, former Cabinet Minister Zanana Akande, Dean of the Raymond Chang School of Continuing Education Gervan Fearon, medical executive Joan Lesmond and former Ontario minister Mary Anne Chambers.

SAWW was established in 1996 to coincide with South African Women’s Day celebrations on August 9. On that day 53 years ago, nearly 20,000 South African women converged on the Union Building in Pretoria to protest the grotesque Pass laws.

In addition to honouring South African women and females from other communities, SAWW awards scholarships in Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s name to financially disadvantaged female South African students, and engage in a teacher-mentorship project that allows Ontario-based educators to share their expertise in curriculum implementation through partnerships with their South African counterparts.

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