IAAF delays testosterone rule change after Caster Semenya challenge

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The IAAF delayed implementing a rule limiting women’s testosterone levels from Nov. 1 until March due to a legal appeal from Olympic 800m champion Caster Semenya and South Africa’s track and field federation.

The IAAF expects a hearing in Semenya’s case in February with a verdict by March 26.

“The IAAF remains very confident of the legal, scientific and ethical bases for the regulations, and therefore fully expects the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) to reject these challenges,” the IAAF said in a press release. “However, the IAAF also understands that all affected athletes need certainty on the point as soon as possible. Therefore, in exchange for Ms. Semenya and [Athletics South Africa] agreeing to an expedited timetable, the IAAF has agreed not to enforce the regulations against any athlete unless and until they are upheld in the CAS award.”

The proposed rule calls for female runners with high testosterone to reduce those levels to be allowed in international races between 400m and the mile.

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

“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 a June press release. “I just want to run naturally, the way I was born.”

IAAF president Seb Coe said the rule was “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, 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 29 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.

Semenya is receiving the Wilma Rudolph Courage Award at the Women’s Sport Foundation’s (WSF) annual salute in New York City on Wednesday.

“Despite public pressure and scrutiny, Semenya has embraced this advocacy role with dignity and courage,” according to a WSF statement. “The Women’s Sports Foundation unequivocally supports Semenya in her challenge to a discriminatory rule that if passed, will place women’s bodies, their well-being, livelihood, identity and privacy at imminent risk.

“It is the position of the Women’s Sports Foundation that eligibility standards for women’s sports that require female athletes to demonstrate particular hormone levels perpetuate the historical discrimination that has been prevalent in women’s sports for decades. We are confident that, when presented with the facts, the Court of Arbitration for Sport will uphold the human rights of all athletes.”

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