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

Caster Semenya
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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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