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No, Usain Bolt didn’t tell South Africa’s Caster Semenya to ‘accept testosterone ruling and move on’

In May 2019 Caster Semenya, South Africa’s two-time Olympic gold-winning track athlete, lost her appeal against an International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) ruling that, from now on, she can only compete if she takes testosterone-suppressing drugs.

The case is complex, provoking anger in South Africa and debate elsewhere in the world.

The Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) argues that its ruling is “a justified and proportionate means of ensuring consistent treatment, and preserving fair and meaningful competition within the female classification”.

Others say Semenya’s naturally produced testosterone is simply the kind of innate advantage that gives all elite athletes their edge.

They include Trevor Noah, the South African host of the Daily Show in the US. In a segment describing the CAS ruling as “bullshit”, Noah pointed to swimming Olympian Michael Phelps, whose body naturally produces half as much lactic acid as most people – giving him far better endurance.

Semenya “didn’t change her body in any way to gain an advantage”, Noah said. “She just has a natural advantage.”

‘Usain Bolt publicly agrees with ruling’

As the controversy raged, South African website Briefly claimed on 17 May that retired Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt had told Semenya to “accept” the testosterone ruling, and “move on”.

Briefly posted the article on Facebook, with the comment: “Usian [sic] Bolt says that Caster Semenya should accept the IAAF's testosterone ruling and move on. He is among the first atheletes [sic] to publicly agree with the ruling.”

The post was soon shared by among others Legit Sports News.

In its article, Briefly claims Bolt “believed it would be more strategic for Semenya to accept the new rules and move forward”.

It then quotes Bolt as saying: “I heard about her story without following it very closely. For me, it's just the rules. I don't make the rules but I enforce them. When there is a rule I never discuss it, I just bend over and move on.”

‘Disappointed with Usain’

Facebook users reacted angrily to the post.

South Africans should boycott Usain Bolt. He just lost my respect,” said one user.

Another said: “Unbelievable. I am disappointed with Usain. So Caster must jeopardise her health for the sake of rules. No Usain, you are wrong.”

Africa Check tracked Briefly’s quote to a video by Agence Presse-France, or AFP, a global news agency. It shows Bolt answering questions about his newly launched electric scooter, the IAAF, and his career.

But while the article gives the impression that Bolt tells Semenya to accept the testosterone ruling and "move on" or that he supported the CAS ruling, nowhere in the video does he say this.

All he says is: “For me, that is just rules. I’ve said it over the years. I don’t make the rules. I just follow the rules and that is it.” – Africa Check (28/05/19)  

CORRECTION: We had indicated that the original video could not be located on AFP's website. We have since confirmed that it is on the agency's website. We regret the oversight.

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