Sport Athletics Court rejects Caster Semenya’s appeal against IAAF’s ‘discriminatory’ testosterone policy

Court rejects Caster Semenya’s appeal against IAAF’s ‘discriminatory’ testosterone policy

Olympic 800m champion Caster Semenya at Germiston on the outskirts of Johannesburg, South Africa on April 26. Photo: AFP/Getty
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Olympic champion Caster Semenya has vowed to race again after a landmark ruling at the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) barred her from competing against other women.

Semenya, a two-time Olympic 800m champion was ironically told she must take drugs to stop the production of the hormone testosterone in her body if she wants to compete in future.

The advice came as the CAS rejected the South African’s appeal against new regulations governing hormone levels in athletes.

The new eligibility rules introduced by the International Association of Athletics Federations’ (IAAF) caused controversy after it was decided the testosterone regulations would only apply to the 400 metre, 800 metre and 1500 metre track events.

Critics theorised then that the decision was made to target the record-breaking Semenya, who in the past has been subjected to sex verification tests, with South African’s sports minister calling the rules a human rights violation.

In a statement released Thursday morning (Australian time), the 28-year-old Semenya accused the IAAF’s regulations of targeting her specifically.

“For a decade the IAAF has tried to slow me down, but this has actually made me stronger,” she said.

“The decision of the CAS will not hold me back. I will once again rise above and continue to inspire young women and athletes in South Africa and around the world.”

Semenya is considering whether to appeal against the decision.

It has been suggested Semenya has the condition, hyperandrogenism, which causes elevated levels of testosterone.

A statement issued on her behalf said “her unique genetic gift should be celebrated, not regulated”. It added that she believes the regulations will be overturned.

Semenya’s presence in female competition has been a contentious issue since she won the 800 metre race at the Berlin world titles in 2009, then aged just 18.

Rio 800m gold medallist Caster Semenya. Photo: Getty

Semenya went on to become the 2012 and 2016 Olympic 800 metre champion, and in 2016 became the first person to win the 400 metre, 800 metre and 1500 metre titles at the South African National Championships.

In 2018, the IAAF said its decision was based on peer-reviewed studies and observation by scientists which showed that females with above-normal or male equivalent levels of testosterone had up to a 12 per cent performance advantage over fellow female athletes.

Testosterone is a hormone that increases muscle mass, strength and haemoglobin, which affects endurance.

Semenya had requested that the proposed rule changes for athletes with “differences of sex development (DSD)” be declared invalid and void with immediate effect, considering them as being “discriminatory, unnecessary, unreliable and disproportionate”.

But in a ruling on Wednesday, the IAAF in Switzerland contended that the DSD regulations do not infringe any athlete’s rights, but preserved fair and meaningful competition within the female classification.

The finding means women like Semenya who have higher levels of testosterone may be forced to compete against men or take drugs to suppress the hormone.

A panel of three judges said in a 165-page award that the IAAF’s DSD regulations were discriminatory.

But the judges ruled 2-1 that “on the basis of the evidence submitted by the parties, such discrimination is a necessary, reasonable and proportionate means of achieving the IAAF’s aim of preserving the integrity of female athletics in the restricted events”.

They also outlined concerns about the rules, including fears that athletes might unintentionally break the IAAF’s testosterone levels, the difficulty for athletes of complying with the rules, such as side effects of hormonal treatment, and a lack of evidence about the advantage that higher testosterone levels provided athletes over 1500 metres and the mile.

The DSD regulations will come into effect on May 8.

An executive summary will be published by the CAS. The decision can be appealed at the Swiss Federal Tribunal within 30 days.

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