Caster Semenya Will Be Forced To Take Hormone-Suppressants To Compete, A Court Rules

The two-time Olympic champion lost her appeal against the IAAF's decision

Caster Semenya

by Zoe Beaty |
Updated on

A landmark decision means that international athlete, Caster Semenya, will be forced to take hormone-supressing drugs in order to compete in professional sport.

The two-time Olympic champion lost her appeal against the Court of Arbitration for Sport (Cas) which challenged the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAFF’s) controversial ruling targeting women like her, who naturally produce high levels of testosterone.

The new rules came into practice in April last year, and stated that female athletes must maintain their testosterone levels to no greater than 5nmol/L by November 1 2018 to legally compete in events from 400m to one mile. At the time, Ross Tucker, an internationally-revered scientist predicted that this would lead to 28-year-old South African Semenya running “five to seven seconds slower” over an 800m distance.

She told Cas in June last year that she just wanted to “run naturally, the way I was born”, and deemed the regulations “unfair”. “I am very upset that I have been pushed into the public spotlight again,” she said in a statement. “I don’t like talking about this new rule. I just want to run naturally, the way I was born. It is not fair that I am told I must change. It is not fair that people question who I am.

“I am Mokgadi Caster Semenya. I am a woman and I am fast.”

Today was deemed by many as a sad day for women’s sport, as Cas rejected Semenya’s appeal saying that it acknowledged that the IAAF rules were indeed discriminatory – but maintained that this is a “necessary” course of action. The court said that “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 IAAF’s aim of preserving the integrity of female athletes.”

Only, Semenya’s integrity has not been privy to these protections. The athlete is thought to have hyperandrogenism – a condition which means her body produces androgens, male sex hormones that include testosterone at higher levels than the majority of women. It also means that her competitors have cried unfair game, claiming that she has an advantage because of this. However, since she was 18, the focus and scrutiny has largely come down to her appearance. Because of that – coupled with her speed – she was forced to submit a gender test.

Controversy has long followed her career and, unfortunately, today is no different. Her lawyers said that the rules Semenya and others are now subjected to are “irrational and unjustifiable”. She now has 30 days to appeal the decision again. Meanwhile Semenya maintains that the rules perpetrate “the offensive practice of intrusive surveillance and judging of women’s bodies which has historically haunted women’s sports."

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