Mbalula among millions of South Africans backing Semenya

She's been surrounded by controversy ever since she broke onto the international athletics scene.

FILE: Caster Semenya. Picture: AFP.

JOHANNESBURG - As South African athlete Caster Semenya prepares to run in the women's 800-metre qualifier in Rio de Janeiro this afternoon, Sports Minister Fikile Mbalula says the world needs to stop shying away from difficult conversations around gender identity.

Mbalula is one of millions of South Africans who have used social media in a show of support for Semenya.

The athlete has been surrounded by controversy ever since she broke onto the international athletics scene in 2009.

After rigorous testing, the then 18-year-old champion was diagnosed with a condition that increases testosterone levels in the average woman.

Mbalula says Semenya's dignity needs to be restored.

"I think with these Olympics it is time, in my view, to confront the issue head on; to address it in a way that brings dignity to Caster and not undermine her own human rights as an individual in our Constitution in the country and a global citizen."