South African athlete Caster Semenya has lost her case against the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF), the media reported on Wednesday (May 1).
Semenya, an athlete with differences in sexual development (DSD) and the current 800m Olympic champion, will now have to take medication to bring down her testosterone level if she wants to continue participating in competitions over distances spanning 400m to a mile. The ruling by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (Cas) is expected to have impact across countries.
A BBC report on the subject mentioned that Cas had “ serious concerns as to the future practical application’’ of the regulations. It also said Cas has asked IAAF to consider delaying the application of rules to 1500m and one mile events till more evidence is available.
The legal battle between 28-year-old Caster Semenya and IAAF was keenly watched by the global sports community.
According to Wikipedia, Semenya rose to prominence in 2008 when she won gold in 800m at the World Junior Championships. She also won gold at the 2008 Commonwealth Youth Games held in Pune, Maharashtra. At the 2009 African Junior Championships she won gold in both 800m and 1500m. In August 2009, she won gold at the IAAF World Championships in Berlin. Following this victory, questions were raised about her sex. The quick improvements in her timing came under scrutiny. IAAF asked her to take a sex verification test. Although the results were never officially published, some of it was leaked to the media resulting in claims of Semenya having intersex trait, Wikipedia said. The testing and how the episode was handled came in for allegations of insensitivity and racism. Semenya received much support within South Africa.
In July 2010, she was cleared again to compete in women’s competitions. At the 2012 London Olympics, Semenya was selected as flag bearer for the South African squad, at the opening ceremony. She won silver in 800m at the 2012 Olympics. In 2015, after Mariya Savinova of Russia who won gold in 800m at the 2012 Olympics was banned for doping violations at the games, Semenya’s silver was upgraded to gold. In 2015, the IAAF’s policy on hyperandrogenism (high testosterone level in women) was suspended following the case of Dutee Chand versus Athletics Federation of India (AFI) and IAAF. According to Wikipedia, the ruling found there was lack of evidence provided on testosterone increasing female athletic performance. IAAF was given two years to provide evidence. Dutee competes in 100m and 200m.
In April 2016, Semenya became the first person to win the 400m, 800m and 1500m at the South African National Championships. In August, she won gold in 800m at the 2016 Olympic Games held in Rio de Janiero. In 2017, she won gold in 800m and bronze in 1500m at the World Championships held in London. In April 2018, IAAF announced new rules requiring hyperandrogenous athletes to take medication to lower testosterone level, effective November that year. Given the scope of these rules was limited to 400m, 800m and 1500m, the perception grew that it was targeted at Semenya. In March 2019, news reports said that the United Nations Human Rights Council found IAAF’s plan to classify women athletes by their testosterone level, contravening international human rights law. The UN called the plans “ unnecessary, humiliating and harmful.” The IAAF said the motion given to the UN contained “ inaccurate statements” – BBC had informed then.
According to a report in The Guardian on Wednesday’s development, three arbitrators studied the case – IAAF’s policy and Semenya’s appeal against it – for nearly two months. Two of them accepted IAAF’s argument that female athletes with high testosterone level possessed significant advantage in size, strength and power from puberty onward. They felt that IAAF’s policy was reasonable and necessary.
At least one news report on Wednesday said Semenya is considering an appeal. Other options – as explained in media discussions following the Cas ruling – include submitting to medication (with potential impact on performance) or moving to distance categories not covered by the IAAF policy.
“ The IAAF is grateful to the Court of Arbitration for Sport for its detailed and prompt response to the challenge made to its Eligibility Regulations for the Female Classification for athletes with differences of sex development, and is 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,’’ IAAF said in a statement posted on its website.
The IAAF regulations are set to take effect from May 8.
(The author, Shyam G Menon, is a freelance journalist based in Mumbai.)