Semenya hearing ends, decision in ‘pivotal’ case late March

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LAUSANNE, Switzerland (AP) — Caster Semenya was given “the last word” when a week-long hearing at sport’s highest court ended Friday, and her decade-long battle with track and field’s ruling body neared a conclusion.

The two-time Olympic 800-meter champion from South Africa appealed to the Court of Arbitration for Sport against the IAAF’s proposed hormone regulations, which would require Semenya and other female athletes with naturally high levels of testosterone to lower them through medication to compete at world-class events.

The regulations would apply to events from 400 meters to one mile, the range of distances Semenya competes in.

The Swiss-based CAS said the verdict, in what it called one of the most “pivotal” cases it has heard, will be announced by March 26.

The decision, which will be made by three CAS judges, has repercussions for sport and how athletes with what the case refers to “as differences of sexual development (DSD)” are treated. Semenya is not the only female athlete with high natural levels of testosterone but has become the sometimes unwilling face of the issue.

The verdict could have an immediate impact on Semenya’s career: The world championships in Qatar, where she is due to defend her 800 title, open in September.

If the IAAF wins the case, she must start taking medication straight away or switch to sprints or long- distance events.

Semenya’s lawyers said at the outset of the hearing that the regulations discriminate against her and her “genetic gift.” The IAAF argued that regulations were needed to ensure fairness in the sport because the South African runner and other DSD athletes have testosterone levels in the male range, giving them an unfair advantage.

The case will likely hinge on whether the IAAF can prove with scientific data that testosterone gives the DSD runners a significant advantage.

IAAF president Sebastian Coe spoke at the hearing, which CAS said “was conducted in a cordial and respectful atmosphere throughout the entire week” despite a tense buildup.

Some of the sessions were held at a secret location to ensure confidentiality and it was previewed by a series of statements from Semenya’s lawyers criticizing the IAAF for allegedly breaching the confidentiality agreement over case details.

Semenya has not commented publicly since the hearing began. Her standoff with the IAAF dates back to 2009, when she won the world title as an unheralded 18-year-old but her victory was mired in scandal when it was revealed the ruling body had ordered her to undergo gender tests in the lead-up to the race.

She was barred from competition for nearly a year as the organization considered her unique case and only returned to the track when the IAAF introduced an early version of their hormone regulation rules. Semenya ran under the previous regulations but those rules were suspended in 2015 when another athlete, Indian sprinter Dutee Chand, won a case at the CAS.

The IAAF has replaced its previous regulations with new ones. Female athletes with high testosterone levels would be required to take daily medication — normally a birth control pill — or have surgery to bring their hormone levels down for at least six months prior to competing in top events like the Olympics and the world championships.

The emotive issue mixes sports, gender and race and has drawn reaction from United Nations human rights experts and activists. The South African government, vocal in its support of Semenya, has alleged racism by the IAAF for focusing its hormone limits on the events that she competes in.

At the French Open, a Ukrainian mom makes her comeback

Elina Svitolina French Open
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Ukraine’s Elina Svitolina, once the world’s third-ranked tennis player, is into the French Open third round in her first major tournament since childbirth.

Svitolina, 28, swept 2022 French Open semifinalist Martina Trevisan of Italy, then beat Australian qualifier Storm Hunter 2-6, 6-3, 6-1 to reach the last 32 at Roland Garros. She next plays 56th-ranked Russian Anna Blinkova, who took out the top French player, fifth seed Caroline Garcia, 4-6, 6-3, 7-5 on her ninth match point.

Svitolina’s husband, French player Gael Monfils, finished his first-round five-set win after midnight on Tuesday night/Wednesday morning. She watched that match on a computer before going to sleep ahead of her 11 a.m. start Wednesday.

“This morning, he told me, ‘I’m coming to your match, so make it worth it,'” she joked on Tennis Channel. “I was like, OK, no pressure.

“I don’t know what he’s doing here now. He should be resting.”

FRENCH OPEN DRAWS: Women | Men | Broadcast Schedule

Svitolina made at least one major quarterfinal every year from 2017 through 2021, including the semifinals at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open in 2019. She married Monfils one week before the Tokyo Olympics, then won a singles bronze medal.

Svitolina played her last match before maternity leave on March 24, 2022, one month after Russia invaded her country. She gave birth to daughter Skai on Oct. 15.

Svitolina returned to competition in April. Last week, she won the tournament preceding the French Open, sweeping Blinkova to improve to 17-3 in her career in finals. She’s playing on a protected ranking of 27th after her year absence and, now, on a seven-match win streak.

“It was always in my head the plan to come back, but I didn’t put any pressure on myself, because obviously with the war going on, with the pregnancy, you never know how complicated it will go,” she said. “I’m as strong as I was before, maybe even stronger, because I feel that I can handle the work that I do off the court, and match by match I’m getting better. Also mentally, because mental can influence your physicality, as well.”

Svitolina said she’s motivated by goals to attain before she retires from the sport and to help Ukraine, such as donating her prize money from last week’s title in Strasbourg.

“These moments bring joy to people of Ukraine, to the kids as well, the kids who loved to play tennis before the war, and now maybe they don’t have the opportunity,” she said. “But these moments that can motivate them to look on the bright side and see these good moments and enjoy themselves as much as they can in this horrible situation.”

Svitolina was born in Odesa and has lived in Kharkiv, two cities that have been attacked by Russia.

“I talk a lot with my friends, with my family back in Ukraine, and it’s a horrible thing, but they are used to it now,” she said. “They are used to the alarms that are on. As soon as they hear something, they go to the bomb shelters. Sleepless nights. You know, it’s a terrible thing, but they tell me that now it’s a part of their life, which is very, very sad.”

Svitolina noted that she plays with a flag next to her name — unlike the Russians and Belarusians, who are allowed to play as neutral athletes.

“When I step on the court, I just try to think about the fighting spirit that all of us Ukrainians have and how Ukrainians are fighting for their values, for their freedom in Ukraine,” she said, “and me, I’m fighting here on my own front line.”

Svitolina said that she’s noticed “a lot of rubbish” concerning how tennis is reacting to the war.

“We have to focus on what the main point of what is going on,” she said. “Ukrainian people need help and need support. We are focusing on so many things like empty words, empty things that are not helping the situation, not helping anything.

“I want to invite everyone to focus on helping Ukrainians. That’s the main point of this, to help kids, to help women who lost their husbands because they are at the war, and they are fighting for Ukraine.

“You can donate. Couple of dollars might help and save lives. Or donate your time to something to help people.”

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Marcell Jacobs still sidelined, misses another race with Fred Kerley

Marcell Jacobs
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Olympic 100m champion Marcell Jacobs of Italy will miss another scheduled clash with world 100m champion Fred Kerley, withdrawing from Friday’s Diamond League meet in Florence.

Jacobs, 28, has not recovered from the nerve pain that forced him out of last Sunday’s Diamond League meet in Rabat, Morocco, according to Italy’s track and field federation.

In his absence, Kerley’s top competition will be fellow American Trayvon Bromell, the world bronze medalist, and Kenyan Ferdinand Omanyala, the world’s fastest man this year at 9.84 seconds. Kerley beat both of them in Rabat.

The Florence Diamond League airs live on Peacock on Friday from 2-4 p.m. ET.

Jacobs has withdrawn from six scheduled head-to-heads with Kerley dating to May 2022 due to a series of health issues since that surprise gold in Tokyo.

Kerley, primarily a 400m sprinter until the Tokyo Olympic year, became the world’s fastest man in Jacobs’ absence. He ran a personal best 9.76 seconds, the world’s best time of 2022, at last June’s USA Track and Field Outdoor Championships. Then he led a U.S. sweep of the medals at July’s worlds.

Jacobs’ next scheduled race is a 100m at the Paris Diamond League on June 9. Kerley is not in that field, but world 200m champion Noah Lyles is.

The last time the reigning Olympic and world men’s 100m champions met in a 100m was the 2012 London Olympic final between Usain Bolt and Yohan Blake. From 2013 to 2017, Bolt held both titles, then retired in 2017 while remaining reigning Olympic champion until Jacobs’ win in Tokyo, where Kerley took silver.

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