South Africa’s president Cyril Ramaphosa and star athlete Caster Semenya, Ethiopia’s prime minister Abiy Ahmed, Egypt’s football star Mohamed Salah were named among the most influential persons in the world for the year 2019.
Globally acclaimed American magazine, TIME named Abiy and Ramaphosa were named in the leaders category, while Semenya and Salah were named in the icons and titans categories respectively.
What TIME’s Edwin Moses said about Semenya
A world and Olympic track-and-field champion several times over, Caster Semenya has taught us that sex isn’t always binary, and caused us to question the justness of distributing societal benefits according to “male” and “female” classifications.
Semenya identifies as a woman, but has testosterone levels higher than the typical female. Her success has brought controversy in elite sport, with many arguing that her biological traits give her an unfair advantage in women’s competition. But Semenya is fighting that. Sport eligibility, she and others say, should not be based on hormone levels or other differences of sex development. If successful, Semenya’s effort could open the door for all who identify as women to compete in track events without having to first medically lower their testosterone levels below a proposed limit.
Ultimately, this incredibly difficult issue is a political one for sport to resolve. But however it is addressed, Semenya will have already made a singular historical contribution to our understanding of biological sex.
What TIME’s John Oliver said about Salah
Mo Salah is a better human being than he is a football player. And he’s one of the best football players in the world.
You’d be hard-pressed to find a professional athlete in any sport less affected by their success or status than Mo, which is incredible because I can’t imagine the kind of pressure that comes with the intensity of adoration he receives. Mo is an iconic figure for Egyptians, Scousers and Muslims the world over, and yet he always comes across as a humble, thoughtful, funny man who isn’t taking any of this too seriously.
As a footballer, he plays with an infectious joy. I’ve always wondered what it would feel like to be able to play as well as him, and watching his face light up after he does something incredible, you get the reassuring sense that it’s exactly as fun as you’d want it to be.
I absolutely love him.
What Time’s Feyisa Lilesa said about Abiy
In 2016, the situation in Ethiopia was very bad. People were being killed and many were in jail, and I wanted the world to know what the government was doing. That’s why, during the 2016 marathon at the Rio Olympics, I crossed my wrists at the finish line—to symbolize that the Ethiopian people want to stop the killing, stop the jailing. We don’t want a dictatorship.
After that, I knew I wouldn’t be able to go back. The government was killing dissidents. I missed my country; I missed my mother. She cried to me on the phone every day for two years.
Then last March, while I was training in Kenya, I heard that Dr. Abiy Ahmed would be the next Prime Minister. In Ethiopian history, we have never seen a leader like him. He’s an educated person who talks about unity. He has released thousands of people from jail. He brought peace between Ethiopia and Eritrea after 20 years of war. And he made it possible for me to come home.
Yes, people are still protesting. But now, when they protest, they aren’t going to jail. To me, that is democracy. That is hope.
What Time’s Vivienne Walt said about Ramaphosa
South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa has perfected the art of patience. Raised in the township of Soweto, he honed his political skills helping his country navigate its way out of apartheid. Then, when he was sidelined for the presidency in the 1990s, he harnessed his cunning and gregariousness to make a vast fortune in business, while his rivals sank the country into dysfunction and cronyism.
Now finally, at 66, Ramaphosa, or Cyril, as he’s known to South Africans, has the chance to end corruption and grow the stalled economy. That could be his toughest battle yet. Blackouts, grinding poverty and massive unemployment have left millions desperate for quick results. Vicious infighting in his African National Congress party leaves him vulnerable to a coup, or perhaps an ouster in elections on May 8. For all that, Ramaphosa has kept his characteristic chuckle and his knack for focusing on the bigger picture. “Unity,” he said recently, “was never going to happen overnight.” After a lifetime fighting his enemies, he should know.