Government wants Chuene fired

JOHANNESBURG -- South Africa's government received support on Sunday for its demand that the country's top athletics official be axed after he admitted lying about gender tests conducted on 800-meter world champion Caster Semenya.

Athletics South Africa president Leonard Chuene apologized Saturday, saying he had lied to protect the 18-year-old's privacy.

The sports ministry called on the ASA to fire Chuene.

"If they fail to do so, they run the risk of being led by a liar," Gert Oosthuizen, the deputy sports minister, said in a statement.

For once, the country's main opposition was in agreement.

Democratic Alliance spokesman Donald Lee said Chuene had damaged South Africa's image.

"Mr. Chuene's immediate dismissal is the very least that needs to happen," he said in a statement.

Chuene was not immediately available for comment.

Semenya won the 800 at the world championships in Berlin in 1 minute, 55.45 seconds on Aug. 19, finishing 2.45 seconds ahead of her closest competitor in the fastest time at the distance this year.

Hours before the final, the International Association of Athletics Federations announced it had ordered tests done on the runner. It said questions had been raised about her muscular physique, running style and recent stunning improvement in times.

The IAAF has refused to confirm or deny Australian media reports earlier this month that Semenya has both male and female characteristics, saying it is reviewing test results and will issue a decision in November on whether the athlete will be allowed to continue to compete in women's events.

Chuene had repeatedly said tests were only done abroad, not in South Africa.

However, on Saturday he said he knew of tests conducted on Semenya at a Pretoria hospital on Aug. 7. He said his constant denials were an "error of judgment," but insisted he would not resign.

Oosthuizen said his ministry had been shocked by Chuene's admissions and that his actions were unacceptable.

"We are convinced that the perpetual denial of the knowledge of these tests have fueled the continuous violation of Ms. Semenya's dignity by foreign and some local media," he said. "We are of the view that his lies were to Ms. Semenya's detriment."

He expressed dismay that decisions taken by the ASA at a meeting last weekend were not based on the truth.

The ASA instructed Chuene to withdraw his resignation from the IAAF board, which he quit in protest over Semenya's treatment. It also commended Chuene, saying he handled the Semenya matter "exceptionally well."

This week, the ASA called for a commission of inquiry into the handling of the controversy.

The ruling African National Congress expressed its disgust at the ASA's handling of the matter Sunday.

"We need to be upright in censuring the officials who handled the matter," said secretary-general Gwede Mantashe, the South African Press Association reported. "ASA didn't handle the matter with the utmost transparency and honesty."