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Caster Semenya loses landmark appeal against IAAF testosterone rules

Caster Semenya loses landmark appeal against IAAF testosterone rules

South African runner Caster Semenya is featured in a new Nike ad (Photo: Facebook)

The highest court in international sports issued a ruling today (1 May) that will force female athletes with elevated testosterone to take suppressants to compete in certain races against women.

The ruling is a landmark defeat for Caster Semenya, a two-time Olympic champion from South Africa, reported BBC Sports. 

Semenya, an 800 meter runner, appealed the regulations and has fought to compete in women’s races regardless of her naturally higher levels of the muscle-building hormone.

What happened?

The Olympian took her case to the Swiss-based Court of Arbitration for Sport.

This is because the International Association of Athletics Federations, or IAAF, consider athletes with higher testosterone levels as biologically male.

But ultimately – in a case addressing gender identity and biology – the court favored the track and field’s governing body.

The court rejected the 28-year-old’s case. However, it said it had ‘serious concerns as to the future application’ of the new rules.

Such rules Semenya slammed as ‘unfair,’ citing that she wanted to ‘run naturally, the way I was born.’


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However, after the ruling she simply tweeted: ‘Sometimes it’s better to react with no reaction.’

Why did the court side with the IAAF?

IAAF had argued that athletes classified with ‘differences of sexual development’ gain an unfair advantage in women’s events.

The court said in its 2-1 ruling that the IAAF’s proposed rules are discriminatory. But ‘such discrimination is a necessary, reasonable and proportionate means of achieving the IAAF’s aim of preserving the integrity of female athletics.’

But the panel wants the IAAF to apply its rules only up to 800 meters.

It argued that the evidence was not clear that women with elevated testosterone levels have a competitive advantage in the 1500 meters.

What does this mean for athletes?

The federation have effectively given a go-ahead that means women with higher testosterone levels must medically limit the hormone if participating in certain events.

Semenya had tried to challenge this. But now some sportswomen will have to make some tough calls.

The choices for Semenya are these: take hormone-suppressing drugs and reduce and maintain her testosterone levels below five nanomoles per liter for six months before competing; begin racing at distances beyond one mile; compete against men; enter competitions for intersex athletes.

Or, with major international sporting events in the horizon, such as the world championships in late September in Doha, Qatar, give up her eligibility to perform in them altogether.

The IAAF will enforce the new regulations from 8 May.

See also

Former British swimmer comes out against trans athletes in women’s sports

CrossFit announces trans athletes will be welcome to compete in their 2019 Games

BBC sports presenter says that trans athletes have an ‘unfair advantage’