Olympic champion Semenya loses appeal over testosterone rules

Updated May 02, 2019

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Court of Arbitration (CAS) secretary general Matthieu Reeb arrives to read the verdict in Caster Semenya’s appeal against the IAAF testosterone rules on Wednesday.—AP
Court of Arbitration (CAS) secretary general Matthieu Reeb arrives to read the verdict in Caster Semenya’s appeal against the IAAF testosterone rules on Wednesday.—AP

LAUSANNE: Olympic 800-metres champion Caster Semenya on Wednesday lost her appeal against rules that mean middle distance female athletes with high natural levels of testosterone must take medication to reduce it.

The Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) ruled the regulations were necessary for athletes with differences in sexual development (DSDs) to ensure fair competition.

But it also voiced concern about how the new rules, which cover events ranging from 400-metres to a mile, would be implemented by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF), the sport’s governing body.

Testosterone increases muscle mass, strength and haemoglobin, which affects endurance. Some competitors have said women with higher levels of the hormone have an unfair advantage.

LAUSANNE: Court of Arbitration (CAS) secretary general Matthieu Reeb arrives to read the verdict in Caster Semenya’s appeal against the IAAF testosterone rules on Wednesday.—AP
LAUSANNE: Court of Arbitration (CAS) secretary general Matthieu Reeb arrives to read the verdict in Caster Semenya’s appeal against the IAAF testosterone rules on Wednesday.—AP

“I know that the IAAF’s regulations have always targeted me specifically,” Semenya, 28, said in a statement released via her lawyers. “For a decade the IAAF has tried to slow me down, but this has actually made me stronger. 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, from South Africa, and her lawyers are considering appealing the ruling.

Semenya has said she does not wish to take medication to change who she is and how she was born, and wants to compete naturally.

The case is likely to have far-reaching consequences, not just for the future of athletics, but all women’s sport, and has split opinion around the globe.

The ruling means Semenya and other athletes with DSD hoping to compete at the World Championships in Doha in September would have to start taking medication to lower their testosterone levels within one week.

Semenya was traveling to Doha on Wednesday for the first Diamond League track meet of the season, where she is expected to race in the 800 on Friday. The Diamond League is an annual series of meets for the top athletes in the world, and the event is the last one before the new rules apply.

The South African Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee decried the ruling, saying, “We maintain that the rules are ill-thought and will be a source of distress for the targeted female athletes.”

“This decision marks a massive turning point as it now redefines what a female athlete in particular is,” said Natalie du Toit, head of the organisation’s athletes commission, adding: “Knowing Caster and the hard work she has put into her sport, we support all her endeavors, and we are all behind her.”

The IAAF welcomed the verdict, saying it was “pleased that the regulations were found to be a necessary, reasonable and proportionate means of achieving the IAAF’s legitimate aim of preserving the integrity of female athletics in the restricted events.

“No athlete will be forced to undergo any assessment and/or treatment under these regulations. It is each athlete’s responsibility, in close consultation with her medical team, to decide whether or not to proceed with any assessment and/or treatment,” it said.

However, in the 165-page ruling, the CAS Panel expressed concerns as to the future application of the regulations.

“The Panel found that the DSD regulations are discriminatory, but the majority of the Panel found that, on the basis of the evidence submitted by the parties, such discrimination is a necessary, reasonable and proportionate means of achieving the IAAFs aim of preserving the integrity of female athletics in the restricted events,” the statement said.

Under the rules, female athletes who have high natural levels of testosterone will have to reduce their levels through medication to under 5 nmol/L, which is double the normal female range of below 2 nmol/L.

The court suggested the regulations be limited to events between 400- and 800-metres due to a lack of evidence that testosterone has a significant effect beyond these distances.

This has been rejected by the IAAF for now, which says it could expand or reduce events under the regulations in the future if there is a compelling scientific case.

The scrutiny of Semenya’s muscular body has cast doubt on the integrity of her track achievements throughout her career. As a teenager in 2009, she won her first world title in Berlin. Hours before the race, the IAAF had asked for Semenya to undergo a gender verification test.

Semenya’s case was the second attempt by the IAAF to regulate such athletes. In 2015, a panel including two of the same judges who heard Semenya’s case suspended the IAAF’s first attempt in an appeal brought by Indian sprinter Dutee Chand.

Some experts have argued that achieving excellence in sport is a combination of training and commitment as well as genetics, and that barring people from competition over a single genetic factor has no scientific basis.

In a rare intrusion into the world of sport, the United Nations Human Rights Council adopted a resolution in March branding the IAAF rules “unnecessary, humiliating and harmful”.

Published in Dawn, May 2nd, 2019