Caster Semenya loses landmark legal case

By Sean Ingle | Guardian |

Caster Semenya has lost her landmark legal case against athletics’ governing body, the IAAF, which means she will have to take medication to reduce her testosterone if she wants to keep running on the international stage.

South Africa Caster Semenya wins the 800m final for women during day 5 of the Confederation of African Athletics (CAA) Championships held in Durban, on June 26, 2016. (ANESH DEBIKY/AFP/Getty Images)
South Africa Caster Semenya wins the 800m final for women during day 5 of the Confederation of African Athletics (CAA) Championships held in Durban, on June 26, 2016. (ANESH DEBIKY/AFP/Getty Images)

The surprise decision, which was announced by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) after three judges had spent the best part of a month deliberating over the complex and highly contentious case, will prove hugely controversial as well as highly damaging to the career of the Olympic 800m champion.

The sports scientist Ross Tucker, who was part of Semenya’s team of experts at CAS last month, believes it will mean the South African will run the 800m around seven seconds slower – turning her from a world beater into an also ran in that event and the 1500m with the IAAF policy to apply from 400 to one mile.

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Semenya had taken the IAAF to court over its plans requiring female athletes with differences in sexual development (DSDs) – who are often born with male testes – to take hormone suppressants, arguing that the policy was discriminatory, unfair, and potentially posed a health risk.

However during the five-day hearing last month, the IAAF maintained that its policy was solely about creating a level playing field for all women, so that success was based on talent and hard work.

Central to its case was that over 99% of females have around 0.12-1.79 nmol/L of testosterone in their bodies – while DSDs like Semenya are in the male range of 7.7-29.4 nmol/L.

The IAAF’s argument was that because testosterone confers significant advantages in size, strength and power from puberty onwards, it was fair to require DSD athletes to reduce their testosterone to below five nmol/L for at least six months if they wanted to compete internationally at distances ranging from 400m to a mile.

That policy, which the IAAF had intended to introduce last November before Semenya’s legal challenge, will now be enacted with immediate effect.

Dr Stéphane Bermon, who heads the IAAF’s health and science department, told the Guardian that the policy would ensure fairness of competition.

“Historically the reason why we have separate male and female categories is that otherwise females would never win any medals,” he said.

“Testosterone is the most important factor in explaining the difference. We are talking about females competing with levels similar to males. Very often it is more than 20 or 25nmol/L. So it is very high.”

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