- South African runner Caster Semenya has not lost an 800-meter running race since 2015. She won two Olympic gold medals in the event in London and Rio de Janiero.
- Semenya’s body naturally produces testosterone at levels higher than average women’s bodies. This prompted the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) to dictate that she has to take medication to reduce her testosterone levels in order to continue running internationally.
- The Court of Arbitration for Sport sided with the IAAF, against Semenya.
- But today, Caster Semenya’s lawyers announced that the Swiss Federal Supreme Court temporarily suspended the implementation of the IAAF’s regulations.
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On May 1, Olympic gold medal runner Caster Semenya lost her ability to compete at the international level.
In a ruling, the Court of Arbitration for Sport (Cas) sided against the South African runner in a case that could come to define how the international athletic community determines gender in competition.
The International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) mandated that Semenya take medication to artificially lower her body’s testosterone levels. The court ruled in favour of the IAAF’s rule, which went into effect on May 8.
That meant that Semenya’s 800-meter race in Doha, Qatar on May 3 was her final race before the new regulations.
Semenya won, handily. It was her 30th international victory at that distance.
When she won, members of the press asked her whether she would ever take testosterone-suppressing medication to keep racing. She responded, “Hell no,” according to The Guardian.
Semenya reportedly added, “when you are a great champion, you always deliver. No man, or any other human, can stop me from running.”
Despite losing her appeal to the IAAF about their decision, Semenya and her lawyers have since appealed to the Swiss Federal Supreme Court. Today, the Swiss court ordered the IAAF to suspend their new regulations while Semenya’s appeal in their court system is pending.
This means Semenya will – for now – still be able to compete in all running events without lowering her testosterone levels.
Why Semenya made waves in women’s sports
According to the BBC, Semenya is an athlete with “differences of sexual development (DSD).”
The British National Health Service defines DSD as a “group of rare conditions where the reproductive organs and genitals don’t develop as expected.” Sometimes, individuals with DSD are called “intersex,” – a term that, according to the Intersex Society of North America, refers to a person born with “a reproductive or sexual anatomy that doesn’t seem to fit the typical definitions of female or male.”
Sometimes, DSD can lead to higher levels of testosterone, like in the case of Caster Semenya.
That testosterone discrepancy is what prompted the IAAF’s request for the new rules, which dictate certain maximum testosterone levels for DSD women racing distances between 400 meters and one mile. Semenya’s preferred distance of 800 meters falls right in the middle of that range. Sprint athletes and long-distance runners are unaffected.
“I know that the IAAF’s regulations have always targeted me specifically,” Semenya said in a statement. “For a decade the IAAF has tried to slow me down, but this has actually made me stronger.”
The court said the ruling was ‘necessary’ for fair competition
“It’s deeply disappointing to hear the CAS has ruled against Caster Semenya,” Kirsty Clarke, the director of sport at Stonewall, told Business Insider last month.
Clarke added that the ruling set a “dangerous precedent” as it would regulate “how people – particularly women – participate in sport.”
When CAS announced the decision, the court agreed that the IAAF’s policy was “discriminatory” to DSD athletes like Semenya, the Guardian reported.
But the two court arbitrators (of three total) who voted in favour of the IAAF said higher testosterone levels “confers significant advantages in size, strength and power from puberty onwards”, according to the Guardian, and that the policy was “necessary, reasonable and proportionate” to ensure fair competition in women’s athletics.
But now, the Swiss court’s recent decision has temporarily halted the IAAF’s implementation of these new policies. In a statement, Semenya said that she is “thankful to the Swiss judges for this decision,” CNN reported.
“I hope that following my appeal I will once again be able to run free,” Semenya added.
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