Caster Semenya on new IAAF rule: ‘discriminatory, irrational, unjustifiable’

Caster Semenya
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Caster Semenya, the Olympic 800m champion, will challenge a rule limiting women’s testosterone levels in middle-distance races set to go into effect after this season, according to a press release provided by her legal team.

Semenya, who underwent gender testing in 2009 and is expected to be affected by the new rule, said it is “discriminatory, irrational, unjustifiable,” in her first public comments since the regulations were announced April 26.

She is taking the case to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS).

“I am very upset that I have been pushed into the public spotlight again. I don’t like talking about this new rule,” Semenya said in the release. “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.”

Female runners with high testosterone must reduce those levels or will not be allowed in international races between 400m and the mile, according to an IAAF rule starting Nov. 1.

“Our evidence and data show that testosterone, either naturally produced or artificially inserted into the body, provides significant performance advantages in female athletes,” IAAF president Seb Coe said in an April press release. “The revised rules are not about cheating, no athlete with a DSD [difference of sexual development] has cheated, they are about leveling the playing field to ensure fair and meaningful competition.”

The IAAF had gender-verification testing in place until 2011, when it was replaced with a test for abnormally high levels of natural testosterone.

In July 2015, the Court of Arbitration of Sport (CAS) suspended the IAAF’s regulation, ruling that it lacked sufficient scientific backing and was therefore unjustifiably discriminatory.

The gender-testing issue was raised in 2009, when Semenya won the world 800m title by nearly 2.5 seconds at age 18. Word leaked that track officials mandated she undergo sex testing.

Semenya was not cleared to run for 11 months and came back to earn silver at the 2011 Worlds and 2012 Olympics, while the testosterone-limiting rule was in effect, behind Russian Maria Savinova, who has since been stripped of her golds for doping.

Semenya then had a lull in performance after the London Games while the testosterone-limiting rule was still in effect. After CAS suspended the rule in 2015, Semenya peaked again in 2016, going undefeated in 800m races, twice breaking the national record and comfortably winning Olympic gold. She has won 24 straight 800m finals dating to 2015, according to Tilastopaja.org.

Semenya has never spoken publicly in detail about her situation. It has never been publicly verified that Semenya’s body naturally produces abnormally high levels of testosterone or that she ever took hormone suppressants.

Earlier this spring, Semenya repeated a phrase when asked about the new rule: “I don’t talk about nonsense.” South Africa’s track and field federation said in May that it planned to appeal to CAS.

Full Press Release

Caster Semenya, two-time world champion and two-time gold medallist in the Women’s 800 metre event, will file a legal case before the Court of Arbitration for Sport in Lausanne challenging the “Eligibility Regulations for Female Classification” of the International Association of Athletics Federation (IAAF).

The Regulations compel women who compete in athletics at the international level to submit to medically unnecessary interventions to lower their natural testosterone levels. Ms Semenya, like all athletes, is entitled to compete the way she was born without being obliged to alter her body by any medical means.

Ms Semenya will today (Monday, 18 June 2018) file the legal challenge to ensure, safeguard and protect the rights of all women.  She asserts that the Regulations are discriminatory, irrational, unjustifiable, and in violation of the IAAF Constitution, the Olympic Charter, the laws of Monaco (where the IAAF is based), the laws of jurisdictions in which international competitions are held, and of universally recognised human rights.  

Issued in April, the Regulations seek to establish a divide within the female category on the basis of naturally occurring testosterone levels. The IAAF claims that higher natural testosterone gives these women an unfair advantage over their peers. They also claim that screening for high testosterone levels is needed to ensure a level playing field in women’s athletics, reasoning that testosterone unfairly improves performance in certain select events, which coincide with the events in which Ms Semenya runs. 

Ms Semenya contends that the Regulations are objectionable on numerous grounds, including that they compel women with no prior health complaints to undergo medical interventions to lower their testosterone levels in the absence of support by the available science.

Ms Semenya is equally concerned by the way in which the Regulations continue the offensive practice of intrusive surveillance and judging of women’s bodies which has historically haunted women’s sports. The Regulations stigmatize and cause harm to women, and legitimize discrimination against women in sport who are perceived as not adhering to normative ideas about femininity.

Ms Semenya puts it like this:

“I am very upset that I have been pushed into the public spot light again.  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.”

The timing of the upcoming filing is critical because the IAAF has announced that the Regulations will come into effect on 1 November 2018 and women must show lowered testosterone levels for a minimum of six months before they can be considered eligible to compete.  Ms Semenya will ask the IAAF to suspend the implementation of the Regulations until her legal challenge is finally disposed of. Without a timely halt to the Regulations healthy women around the world could undergo unnecessary medical intervention in order to be eligible to compete under the Regulations or be unfairly prevented from participating in their chosen sport.  

Gregory Nott, Ms Semenya’s lawyer in South Africa with the international law firm Norton Rose Fulbright, comments that: “This is a landmark case concerning international human rights and discrimination against women athletes with major consequences for gender rights which are jealously protected by the South African Bill of Rights.  We are honoured to represent Ms Semenya and advance a position that protects all affected women along with our colleagues in Canada at Davies Ward Phillips & Vineberg, LLP, who represented Ms Dutee Chand in her successful challenge to the IAAF’s 2011 hyperandrogenism regulations, which were suspended by the Court of Arbitration for Sport as a result of Ms Chand’s challenge and subsequently withdrawn by the IAAF.”

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