Caster Semenya, the 19-year old runner who was at the center of a worldwide gender controversy, can't find a sponsor. So the defending 800-meter world champion is turning to Facebook to help raise money for her track career.
The negative publicity brought upon by last year's gender tests have scared away sponsors, Semenya's manager Tshepo Seema says. After she was cleared to run as a female in July, it's gotten even worse. Seema said that companies have told him "we can't touch her."
To counter this, Semenya and her team have started grassroots efforts to raise funds. First, there was a text message campaign where supporters could pledge 70 cents (set up in the same way as the Red Cross campaign to assist Haiti after the devastating earthquake). Now, a group started on Facebook plans to sell t-shirts and hold car washes for Semenya's benefit.
The only problem is, they don't have enough money to pay for the cost of printing the t-shirts. And, even worse, despite the fact that this story received worldwide attention this week, the Facebook page to donate to Semenya is difficult to find. I spent 30 minutes this morning on the site and, other than Semenya's main page and a few support groups created during the height of the transgender controversy, I couldn't find it.
If ever there was a time to cash in on a tidal wave of publicity, this would be it. Instead, the chance slipped by.
The good news for Semenya is that she's not broke or destitute. She receives a salary from the South African government, gets athletic clothing from a sportswear company and takes classes at the University of Pretoria. She also has access to their training facilities. And as a former world champion, Semenya undoubtedly receives appearance fees from various track meets from around the world. (Sponsors may not think she's a good fit, but she's one of the biggest names in the sport and will be a drawing card at events.)
With the 2011 world championships approaching and London 2012 right around the corner, Semenya should be fine. If she continues to improve, wins races and capitalizes on her name recognition, sponsors will eventually come around. Semenya has a bright, lucrative future in front of her. And she won't even need car washes to get there.