South African middle-distance runner Caster Semenya is fighting for her right to compete without reducing her testosterone levels.
The openly gay athlete appeared at the court of arbitration for sport (CAS) on 14 February. She is asking to compete without ‘unnecessary medical intervention’.
The IAAF has long questioned Semenya’s gender
Lawyers for athletics’ governing body, the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF), suggested that, if Semenya was successful in next week’s landmark case, it could lead to athletes with differences of sexual development (DSD) and transgender athletes ‘dominating the podiums and prize money in sport’.
‘Her case is about the rights of women such as Ms. Semenya who are born as women, reared and socialized as women, who have been legally recognized as women for their entire lives, who have always competed as women, and who should be permitted to compete in the female category without discrimination,’ her lawyers said in a statement.
The IAAF has previously asked Semenya to undertake gender testing by athletics chiefs, but no results have been made public.
Her lawyers repeated the statement the South African made when she announced she would fight the rules last year: ‘It is not fair. I just want to run naturally, the way I was born.’
She also added: ‘It is not fair that people question who I am.’
The new rules for runners like Semenya
Semenya has been competing without taking testosterone-suppressing medications ever since CAS changed the rule in 2015. They allowed intersex athletes with testes and higher levels of testosterone to compete freely.
Nonetheless, the IAAF intended to bring in new rules on 1 November 2018. They postponed a decision to 26 March to wait for the outcome of the legal challenge from Semenya and Athletics South Africa.
The rules will apply to women in track events from 400m up to the mile. According to the new rules, athletes will have to keep their testosterone levels below a prescribed amount ‘for at least six months prior to competing’.
Will athletes with DSD have to reduce their testosterone levels?
In a statement, Semenya’s lawyers added: ‘Women with differences in sexual development have genetic differences that are no different than other genetic variations that are celebrated in sport. She asks that she be respected and treated as any other athlete. Her genetic gift should be celebrated, not discriminated against.’
The IAAF rejected a report suggesting it regarded Semenya as a ‘biological male’.
‘The IAAF is not classifying any DSD athlete as male,’ it added. ‘To the contrary, we accept their legal sex without question, and permit them to compete in the female category.’
It pointed out that DSD athletes’ get the same increases in bone and muscle size and strength and increases in hemoglobin that a male gets when they go through puberty’.
This is ‘what gives men such a performance advantage over women,’ it added.
‘Therefore, to preserve fair competition in the female category, it is necessary to require DSD athletes to reduce their testosterone down to female levels before they compete at an international level.’