Kenya’s Olympic 800 metres bronze medallist Margaret Nyairera Wambui can feel her career slipping away from her, with no idea when, or if, she will be able to compete internationally again.
The 24-year-old is one of several star female athletes affected by an International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) ruling this month that requires women with high levels of testosterone to take medication to suppress it.
Seated at a dirt-track stadium at the foot of the Ngong Hills outside Nairobi where she trains, Wambui has just returned from a disappointing sixth-place finish in the 800m at the Doha Diamond League.
She was meant to leave for the IAAF World Challenge athletics meeting in Nanjing next week, but now her future is one big question mark.
“I am very disappointed, I don’t even feel like going on with the training because you don’t know what you are training for,” she told AFP.
The new IAAF rules took effect on May 8 after South Africa’s two-time Olympic 800m champion, Caster Semenya lost a legal challenge against them.
For about a decade, Semenya has been the symbol of a furious debate worldwide about questions of gender, women with elevated testosterone, and physical advantage.
However, other athletes such as Wambui, who finished third behind Semenya in the 800m at the 2016 Rio Olympics, and the silver medallist from Burundi, Francine Niyonsaba, are also affected.
Physical advantage debate –
The IAAF has maintained that the rules are necessary for fair competition, arguing that athletes with high levels of testosterone benefit from increased bone and muscle strength similar to men who have gone through puberty.
However, critics highlight that the very nature of elite athletic success is down to one physical advantage or another, such as swimmers with disproportionately big hands or feet, or basketball players who are taller than the average person.
“Why, when you have a high level of testosterone in men, you are likely to perform well and we celebrate that? But when it comes to women, we have to tell them to lower it and we draw them out of competition. Why?”
She further asked;
“Why don’t we take maybe men with low testosterone and categorise them as women?” -Wambui.
The new rule applies to distances from 400m to a mile, and includes the heptathlon, which concludes with an 800m race.
Wambui said simply switching to another distance like 5,000m was not possible, with different skills and training needed that would take years to reach elite level.
“I am not going to take medication because I am not sick and…those are chemicals you are putting in your body, you don’t know how it will affect you later,” she said.
She said that maybe the idea of having different categories of runners -comparing it to boxing, where heavyweights don’t fight flyweights -might be “a good idea to make it fair.”
We are just natural –
Wambui grew up in Kenya’s central highlands in the town of Nyeri, and began running in primary school. She was thrust into the spotlight when she won a gold medal at the 2014 IAAF world junior championships and has since established herself as one of the world’s top two-lap runners.
Running is “something in me, in my blood, it is something I cannot do without. Now they are telling us we can’t compete, we just feel rejected. We are just natural, we did not dope.”
Wambui, who is tall and muscular, with braided hair and a shy smile, said she had never faced questions about her gender or appearance until the IAAF began cracking down on women with elevated testosterone.
She said she had been forced to undergo blood tests for doping, but did not know when she had been specifically tested for testosterone levels.
“I am worried now about my career,” she said, adding that the ruling had also heaped pressure on her family, for whom she is the only breadwinner.
When she is not training, she is a police officer, and works for Kenya’s prison service.
Last week, Athletics Kenya dropped 100m and 200m champion Maximilla Imali and 400m runner Evangeline Makena from the team for the IAAF World Relays event in Japan over their high levels of testosterone.
South Africa plans to appeal the latest IAAF ruling.
The IAAF argues its ruling is aimed at creating a “level playing field” and denies accusations it was targeted specifically at Semenya.
Wambui said that while Semenya had become a cause celebre in South Africa, fiercely defended by politicians and citizens, she herself had received no support from the Kenyan government.
Athletics Kenya official Barnabas Korir told AFP the body supports the IAAF ruling.
“This has been a simmering issue especially with our very own athletes having complained about running with these women with excess testosterone,” he said.
“We have to be realistic that these athletes have had an advantage over the others.”
Drama as Kenyan traffic officers accidentally shoot female colleague
Sources say that one of the traffic officers attempted to fire at the EACC detectives but, instead, shot a female colleague in the thigh
A melee ensued on Wednesday morning in the lakeside city of Kisumu, Kisumu County in Kenya after traffic police officers at a roadblock opened fire on Ethics and Anti-Corruption (EACC) officers.
The fracas broke out following a sting operation conducted by the EACC detectives targeting police officers suspected of receiving bribes at the Mamboleo roadblock as well as the Kisumu International Airport area.
Sources say that one of the traffic officers attempted to fire at the EACC detectives but, instead, shot a female colleague in the thigh.
As at the time of this report, she had been taken to a nearby hospital for treatment. One of the other officers attempted to escape by jumping from the Mamboleo flyover but broke a leg and had to be assisted to the police station. A total of five officers were apprehended and will face various charges.
That a traffic officer was armed raises significant questions given that police officers assigned to traffic duties in Kenya are generally not armed.
None of the EACC detectives were injured during the incident.
Ethiopia’s Sidama ethnic group votes in referendum on statehood
At present, Ethiopia is partitioned into nine semi-autonomous regional states — with the Sidama voting for a potential tenth
Polls opened on Wednesday in Ethiopia’s ethnic Sidama region in a referendum for a new federal state, a critical vote in a tense region that could embolden others to follow.
The Sidama push for statehood already triggered days of unrest in July that left dozens dead and prompted the government to place Ethiopia’s southern region under the control of soldiers and federal police.
But the mood on Wednesday morning in the regional capital, Hawassa appeared calm.
People formed long queues at polling stations at dawn, with some 2.3 million people registered to vote.
Away from the polling stations, the streets of Hawassa were much quieter than usual, with Wednesday declared a holiday for the vote. Heavily armed police and soldiers patrolled the streets.
“The voting process is inclusive, smooth, transparent and exciting,” said 27-year-old Fantahun Hatiso, after casting his ballot.
“I voted for a decision that I believe will work towards development, peace and personal well-being.”
The referendum on autonomy springs from a federal system designed to provide widespread ethnic self-rule in a hugely diverse country, Africa’s second-most populous, with more than 100 million people.
At present, Ethiopia is partitioned into nine semi-autonomous regional states — with the Sidama voting for a potential tenth.
The constitution requires the government to organise a referendum for any ethnic group that wants to form a new entity.
The Sidama — who number more than three million — have agitated for years to leave the diverse Southern Nations, Nationalities, and Peoples’ Region.
The dream gained fresh momentum after Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, winner of this year’s Nobel Peace Prize, took office last year.
“I stayed up until late in the night,” Hatiso added. “The excitement of waiting for this day, which will bring liberty and peace to my people, kept me awake.”
At least ten other groups in the south of the country have already launched plans for self-determination similar to that of the Sidama. Analysts fear it could unleash further ethnic violence.
Polls opened at 6:00 am (0300 GMT) and close at 6:00 pm (1500 GMT). Preliminary results are expected on Thursday.
Gunmen ambush and kill 8 Burundian soldiers
Dozens more soldiers were missing in the ambush on their base, one of largest and deadliest attacks for several years
Burundian soldiers were attacked in a night jungle ambush near the border with Rwanda, Burundi’s defence ministry said, with military sources on Tuesday reporting at least eight soldiers’ deaths.
Dozens more soldiers were missing in the ambush on their base, one of largest and deadliest attacks for several years, senior army officers said Tuesday, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“A group armed with rifles from Rwanda attacked a position of Burundian soldiers on Mount Twinyoni,” defence ministry spokesman Major Emmanuel Gahongano said on state television on Monday.
“This armed group has withdrawn to Rwanda.”
He did not give details of casualties or the identity of the attackers.
Burundi has been in crisis since President Pierre Nkurunziza defied constitutional limits to seek a third term in office, winning re-election in 2015.
Burundi has repeatedly accused neighbouring Rwanda of supporting rebel groups in its territory, a claim Kigali denies.
Rwanda on Tuesday denied any role in the attack.
“It is not true that the attacks were made from people who came from Rwanda,” Olivier Nduhungirehe, State Minister for Regional Affairs, told reporters.
“These are unfounded allegations being made from Burundi — as they have done previously for the last four years. We have other things to do.”
The attack, some 100 kilometres north of the capital Bujumbura, in thick forests 10 kilometres from the Rwandan border, took place in the early hours of Sunday morning.
Around 90 soldiers were reported to be in the base before the attack.
But when reinforcements arrived hours later, they found only the bodies of eight comrades, including of the company commander, a senior officer told reporters.
Later, 15 soldiers were found alive, some of them wounded.
“The rest of the company is still missing,” the officer said. Their fate is unknown.
The military source reported that attackers were well-equipped.
“Our soldiers were surprised by assailants wearing bullet-proof vests and night-vision goggles, which completely wiped out the position,” the officer said, a report confirmed by two other military sources.
“We believe that it is not mere rebels who are responsible for it.”
No Burundian armed group has claimed responsibility.
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