Caster Semenya
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Caster Semenya loses appeal; women’s races face testosterone caps

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Caster Semenya lost her appeal against rules designed to decrease naturally high testosterone levels in some female runners. Those in events between the 400m and the mile — Semenya’s trademark events — must reduce those levels within a week to be eligible to return to competition for the world championships in five months.

The Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) announced its ruling Wednesday, backing the IAAF, the sport’s international governing body.

“I know that the IAAF’s regulations have always targeted me specifically,” the two-time Olympic 800m champion Semenya said in a statement. “For a decade the IAAF has tried to slow me down, but this has actually made me stronger. The decision of the CAS will not hold me back.”

The IAAF, after funding a study along with the World Anti-Doping Agency, said last year that research showed the following natural testosterone levels:

Most women: .12-1.79 nanomoles per liter in blood
Normal men after puberty: 7.7-29.4 nmol/L

The new rule forces all who race the women’s 400m through the mile and who are androgen-sensitive to restrict their ratio to below five. It said women who have “a difference of sexual development” can have natural testosterone levels beyond the normal male range.

A CAS panel “found that the DSD regulations are discriminatory,” but the majority of the panel ruled “such discrimination is a necessary, reasonable and proportionate means of achieving the IAAF’s aim of preserving the integrity of female athletics” in those events.

Fifteen minutes after the news broke, Semenya’s social media accounts posted an image with the words, “Sometimes it’s better to react with no reaction.”

Runners with those abnormally high testosterone levels will be forced to take measures to reduce them to compete. The court panel, however, suggested the IAAF consider removing the restriction for the 1500m and mile “until more evidence is available” of an advantage in those events.

For now, runners have one week to meet the testosterone limit and must do so for at least six straight months before being eligible to compete. In an exception, the IAAF will allow runners to reduce the levels by this deadline and compete at the world championships starting in late September.

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.

But in 2009, word leaked that track officials mandated she undergo gender-verification testing after she won the world 800m title by 2.45 seconds at age 18 (the only time that race has been won by more than two seconds in Olympic or world championships history).

Semenya was not cleared to run for 11 months and came back to earn silver at the 2011 Worlds and 2012 Olympics (the gold medalist since stripped for doping), while a new testosterone-limiting rule was in effect that replaced gender testing. That 2011 rule limited that testosterone ratio to 10 in all female events.

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, saying it lacked sufficient scientific backing and was therefore unjustifiably discriminatory, 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.

Then last April, the IAAF announced a proposed rule calling for female runners with high testosterone to reduce those levels to a specific limit to be allowed in international races between 400m and the mile starting with the 2019 season.

IAAF president Seb Coe said the rule was “about leveling the playing field to ensure fair and meaningful competition.”

Semenya called the rule “discriminatory, irrational, unjustifiable,” and, along with South Africa’s track and field federation, mounted a legal appeal. That brought the issue to CAS again this past winter.

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

“I just want to run naturally, the way I was born.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Maria Sharapova appears set to miss Tokyo Olympics

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Maria Sharapova, who would have a difficult time qualifying for the Olympics next year, committed to play an event in California the week of the Tokyo Games.

Sharapova is scheduled to play World Team Tennis matches in California during the Olympic tennis events in late July, according to a press release. Sharapova’s longtime agent hasn’t responded to a message seeking confirmation that she is ruling out the Tokyo Games.

Sharapova, 32 and the 2012 Olympic silver medalist, was barred from the Rio Games due to her 15-month meldonium suspension in 2016 and 2017. That alone could rule her ineligible for Tokyo, given the World Anti-Doping Agency’s sanctions against Russia on Monday.

Sharapova is ranked No. 131 after a season shortened by shoulder surgery. She would have to be among the top four ranked Russian women after the French Open in June for possible automatic Olympic qualification. She is currently the 14th Russian.

Olympic eligibility rules include minimum participation requirements in Fed Cup, which Sharapova hasn’t done in this Olympic cycle, though exceptions can be made.

Sharapova’s passion for the Olympics is well documented.

She carried the Russian flag into the London 2012 Opening Ceremony and carried the Olympic flame into Fisht Stadium at the Sochi 2014 Opening Ceremony, where she worked for NBC Olympics.

“It was the one thing that my parents allowed me to watch on TV late into the evening was the Olympics,” Sharapova said in 2017. “I grew up watching figure skating and hockey and a little bit of tennis. … Just capturing the Opening Ceremonies and seeing all the countries and the little hats that they wore, and I, as a little girl, I just imagined that maybe it would be me. But I never, ever thought that I would be carrying the flag.

“I received that [flag] honor in a text message, which is a very Russian way of communicating. I originally thought it was a joke, a big fat joke. Then I showed it to my mother, and she [said], no, they probably wouldn’t joke like that.”

In February 2016, Sharapova entered a Fed Cup tie, despite saying she was injured, in order to receive Olympic eligibility. One month later, her failed drug test was announced.

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Russia banned from Olympics, world champs for 4 years; athletes could compete as neutrals

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Russia is banned from the next two Olympics and other major sports events for four years, though its athletes could still compete without representing the country if cleared by anti-doping authorities.

Russia’s hosting of world championships in Olympic sports also face being stripped after the World Anti-Doping Agency executive committee approved a full slate of recommended sanctions for tampering with a Moscow laboratory database.

Russian athletes will be allowed to compete in major events — including world championships — only if they are not implicated in positive doping tests or their data was not manipulated, according to the WADA ruling. “In this circumstance, they may not represent the Russian Federation,” according to a WADA release.

“While I understand the calls for a blanket ban on all Russian athletes whether or not they are implicated by the data, it was the unanimous view of the CRC [compliance review committee], which includes an athlete, that in this case, those who could prove their innocence should not be punished, and I am pleased that the WADA ExCo [executive committee] agreed with this,” WADA CRC chairman Jonathan Taylor said.

There are 145 unnamed athletes within WADA’s “target group of most suspicious athletes” from 2012-15 who would not be allowed to compete at the Olympics, Taylor said, adding that it’s possible those names will be made public. About one-third of them are still active.

Russia’s anti-doping agency can appeal the decision within 21 days. Russia previously signaled it would appeal the ruling.

“The decision will come into effect only when it becomes final ie when either RUSADA accepts it or it is upheld by the Court of Arbitration for Sport,” a WADA spokesperson said in an email.

Russia avoided blanket bans for the Rio and PyeongChang Olympics after a state-run doping program was exposed by media and WADA investigations after Russia hosted the 2014 Sochi Winter Games.

Approved Russian athletes competed as neutrals — “Olympic Athletes from Russia” — including in team sports in PyeongChang. Those Russians combined to earn two gold medals (figure skater Alina Zagitova and men’s hockey) and 17 overall, compared to the leading 33 Russia earned at the Sochi Olympics before medals were stripped for doping.

“Will Russian athletes be accepted as Olympic Athletes from Russia?” during the ban, Taylor said. “No, they are neutral athletes, which means not representatives of any country. Not representatives of Russia.”

Going forward, “they cannot use the name of the country in the name of the team,” WADA president-elect Witold Bańka told The Associated Press.

Two of the 168 Russians who competed in PyeongChang failed drug tests and were punished for doping.

More recent evidence shows that Russian authorities tampered with a Moscow laboratory database to hide hundreds of potential doping cases and falsely shift the blame onto whistleblowers, WADA investigators and the International Olympic Committee said last month. “Flagrant manipulation” of the Moscow lab data was “an insult to the sporting movement worldwide,” the IOC said last month.

“Russia was afforded every opportunity to get its house in order … but it chose instead to continue in its stance of deception and denial,” WADA president Craig Reedie said.

Russia will be allowed to participate in the Youth Olympics in Lausanne, Switzerland, that open Jan. 9.

WADA’s inability to fully expel Russia from the Tokyo Olympics and 2022 Beijing Winter Games frustrated the doping watchdog’s vice president.

“I’m not happy with the decision we made today. But this is as far as we could go,” said Linda Helleland, a Norwegian lawmaker who serves on WADA executive committee and has long pushed for a tougher line against Russia. “This is the biggest sports scandal the world has ever seen. I would expect now a full admission from the Russians and for them to apologize on all the pain all the athletes and sports fans have experienced.”

Although the IOC has called for the strongest possible sanctions, it wants those sanctions directed at Russian state authorities rather than athletes or Olympic officials.

“To allow Russia to escape a complete ban is yet another devastating blow to clean athletes, the integrity of sport and the rule of law,” USADA CEO Travis Tygart said in a statement. “And, in turn, the reaction by all those who value sport should be nothing short of a revolt against this broken system to force reform.”

Russia’s Olympic champion women’s handball team is currently competing at the world championships in Japan. Its next match is Tuesday against Montenegro. Russia has been the scheduled host for the world luge championships in Sochi in mid-February.

The “major sports” events that fall under WADA’s sanctions do not include European Championships or other non-world championships events such as tennis’ upcoming Australian Open.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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TIMELINE: Russia’s recent history of sports doping