Semenya will sue the IAAF for $120 million - a heavy price to pay, but for who?
I realise I'm interrupting my series on the Top 9 sports science stories of 2009, and I am bombarding you with posts at a time when you may not even be reading (you'll have a lot to get through when your vacation is over - apologies!), but I came across this link courtesy Alessandra at our last post, and decided to comment, since the opportunity will pass as we move into the Top 3 stories over coming days.
This was always going to be the Number 1 sports science story of 2009, without a doubt, and so when I tackle Number 1, I'll review the whole saga, but I've just read that Caster Semenya, the world 800m champion from South Africa, and the athlete caught in the middle of a gender/sex row, is to sue the IAAF for $120 million. ASA, for all their bungling, and the fact that they deliberately covered up the testing they did prior to Berlin, escape "lightly", being taken for "only" $18 million. The reason? Presumably they don't have enough money to pay what they should - it would be interesting to know what that amount would have been if ASA had any money at all (but that's hypothetical, after years of Chuene-leadership has bled ASA of ALL its money).
I don't begrudge Semenya compensation for the last few months - she was without doubt the victim in this affair, first at the hands of the corrupt and incompetent management of Athletics South Africa, which exposed her to invasive physical examinations under the guise of doping controls, and then entered her into the event in Berlin despite being advised to withdraw her by medical officials who were well aware that problems existed around her eligibility.
Then there was the leak. To this day, I don't know where it came from, or whether the IAAF were to blame. All that is known is that the IAAF were faced with reports that Semenya's sex was under investigation and they confirmed it. Where the leak originated, I do not know, but I would suspect that legally, they are liable, even if the leak was not in their control.
For this discretion, they face a $120 million lawsuit. It seems to me an absurd amount, though I'm not a lawyer and I don't know how these values are worked out. I guess it's a combination of lost earning potential (which I'd put at very little, if her gender is in fact as confirmed - she would not have been allowed to compete anyway, regardless of a leak) and the psychological and emotional hurt done to her, which has been enormous. But worth $120 million? Your opinions are welcome. (I realize a settlement is likely, with a figure smaller than this, but still, the value is astronomical. Or is it?)
The IAAF meets the law...again
The other twist in this story is seen by the following quote by the chairman of the law firm who is representing Semenya (it is the quote of the day on LetsRun.com):
"We learned during the Oscar Pistorius case that the rule of law does prevail in international sports and that equality of opportunity can be achieved. Hopefully, the IAAF has learned from this experience and we look forward to working with it to ensure a just outcome here for Ms. Semenya."
To clear up the issue, this is the same law firm that teamed up with questionable science to bend the result in favour of Pistorius, obscuring the science that existed and suggested that he enjoyed a 10 second advantage in a 400m race. Yet they still managed to win the verdict. Far be it from me to jump to the defence of a global sports governing body (my time in rugby has created a distrust of such organizations), but when they say that "the rule of law does prevail", and that the IAAF "has learned from this experience", what should be read is that the IAAF have been shown that good PR and law trumps good science and the truth (see our 4th biggest story of 2009 for more).
Where to? Complex can only get messier
So the IAAF are on the block. As for Semenya, if she wins even half of what is being sought, $70 million, then what? Is this a sign that she is NOT going to attempt to compete internationally again? Or is she going to go for the double-play, continuing to run with her millions? And what of the surgery? Can she run without it? The issue has so many unanswered questions, and this latest story just adds to the layers of complexity.
The IAAF may end up paying out a fortune to Semenya, but in the long term, I wonder who will really pay? Does money buy back everything done since August? The implications of this lawsuit (regardless of its outcome) will only become clear once we know if Semenya intends to run again or not.
If Semenya never runs again, will $120 million cover the loss (not of earnings, but of her career and peace of mind)? If she does run, will $120 million become her legacy, a giant banner above her head at every meeting, every race? Can she win and run? Purely from a South African perspective, I shudder to think of the repercussions in South Africa of an individual suddenly coming into that amount of money with this much media attention. Just ask Josiah Thugwane - he won a miniscule amount after winning the Atlanta Olympic Marathon, and became a repeat victim of organized crime.
I hope Semenya is getting some seriously good long-term advice right now - my point is that a lawsuit to claim hundreds of millions cannot be viewed separately from Semenya's ambitions (if any) to run again internationally, yet they seem to have been compartmentalized in this way. Semenya the aspirational athlete may ultimately be the one to pay for $120 million.
A giant mess for 2010, and it seems no end in sight.