What Caster Semenya IAFF Discrimination Case Means for Women and Sport

South African athlete Caster Semenya has lost her discrimination case against the International Association of Athletics Federation, which has found that forcing athletes with high levels testosterone to lower them is "discriminatory but necessary".

From the BBC: “The 28-year-old Olympian had challenged the IAAF over its decision to restrict testosterone levels in female runners for distances between 400m and a mile.

Semenya, who has won the last 29 of her 800m races, was born with intersex traits - meaning her body produces atypically high levels of testosterone.

The ruling means she will have to take testosterone suppressants if she wishes to compete in these shorter events.

Three sports judges in Switzerland have taken more than two months to reach this verdict - indicating the sensitivity and complexity of the case.

Depending on your point of view, the situation seemed clear-cut - whichever way you want to look at it.

Supporters of Semenya argue that the runner has been penalised for no other reason than the biological traits that she was born with. She has not cheated, or found to be taking performance-enhancing drugs.

Kyle Knight, a researcher in the LGBT rights program at Human Rights Watch said that taking the proposed IAAF testosterone suppressants would be as "humiliating as it is medically unnecessary" for female athletes whose hormone levels are outside accepted boundaries.

And in 2019, the spectrum of identity stretches beyond the binary, say human rights activists. So shouldn't Semenya's physical abilities be celebrated the same way as Usain Bolt's height and Michael Phelps's wingspan are?”


"I'm just being Caster. I don't want to be someone who I don't want to be. I don't want to be someone who people wants to be. I just want to be me." BBC.com

"I'm just being Caster. I don't want to be someone who I don't want to be. I don't want to be someone who people wants to be. I just want to be me." BBC.com

BREAKING: Caster Semenya Loses Case to Compete as a Woman in All Races

The highest court in international sports issued a landmark but nuanced ruling on Wednesday that will force female track athletes with elevated levels of testosterone to take suppressants to compete in certain women’s races at major international events like the Olympics.

The ruling was a defeat for Caster Semenya, a two-time Olympic champion at 800 meters from South Africa, who had challenged proposed limits placed on female athletes with naturally elevated levels of the muscle-building hormone testosterone.

The Swiss-based Court of Arbitration for Sport addressed a complicated, highly charged question involving fair play, gender identity, biology and human rights that the world of track and field has been grappling with for a decade: Since competition is divided into male and female categories, what is the most equitable way to decide who should be eligible to compete in women’s events?

Restrictions on permitted levels of naturally occurring testosterone are discriminatory, the court ruled Wednesday in a 2-to-1 decision. But, the panel added, such discrimination is a “necessary, reasonable and proportionate means” of achieving track and field’s goal of preserving the integrity of women’s competition…

Semenya issued a statement through her lawyers, saying: “I know that the I.A.A.F.’s regulations have always targeted me specifically. For a decade the I.A.A.F. has tried to slow me down, but this has actually made me stronger. The decision of the C.A.S. will not hold me back. I will once again rise above and continue to inspire young women and athletes in South Africa and around the world.”

Her lawyers said in a statement that they might appeal Wednesday’s decision, arguing that “her unique genetic gift should be celebrated, not regulated…

Semenya said the rule stigmatized women who did not conform to perceived notions of femininity and permitted discrimination against them. She argued that she should be able to compete the way she was born without being obliged to medically alter her body.

“I just want to run naturally, the way I was born,” she said last summer. “It is not fair that I am told I must change. It is not fair that people question who I am.” From nytimes.com


Image: Harold Cunningham/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Image: Harold Cunningham/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images