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Caster Semenya loses court challenge against IAAF testosterone restrictions

The Olympic 800m champion will need to reduce her testosterone levels in order to compete on the international stage.

Caster Semenya (file pic).
Caster Semenya (file pic).
Image: Adam Davy

OLYMPIC 800m CHAMPION Caster Semenya has lost her landmark case against athletics’ governing body, the IAAF, after her appeal was rejected by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS).

Semenya will now have to take medication to reduce her testosterone levels if she is to continue to compete on the international stage. This regulation will come into effect for Semenya and other relevant athletes from next week, 8 May.

A three-judge panel spent more than two months deliberating over a highly complex and contentious case, but in a surprise decision they found that the rules targeting athletes with differences in sexual development (DSD) were “discriminatory” but that “such discrimination is a necessary, reasonable and proportionate means of achieving the IAAF’s aim of preserving the integrity of female athletics.”

In a statement, CAS said Semenya’s team had been unable to prove the IAAF’s policy was “invalid”.

It added:

The panel found that the DSD Regulations are discriminatory but that, on the basis of the evidence submitted by the parties, such discrimination is a necessary, reasonable and proportionate means of achieving the IAAF’s aim of preserving the integrity of female athletics in the Restricted Events.

However, the panel also expressed concern as to the practical application of DSD rules in future.

“While the evidence available so far has not established that those concerns negate the conclusion of prima facie proportionality, this may change in the future unless constant attention is paid to the fairness of how the Regulations are implemented,” they said.

On the health issues, they added:

The side effects of hormonal treatment, experienced by individual athletes could, with further evidence, demonstrate the practical impossibility of compliance which could, in turn, lead to a different conclusion as to the proportionality of the DSD regulations.

The verdict is certain to cause controversy, as Semenya was backed by a global coalition of nations and scientific experts who argued that testosterone is an arbitrary and unfair measure for determining gender.

Experts also stressed that achieving excellence in sport is a combination of training and commitment as well as genetics and that barring people from competition over a single genetic factor has no scientific basis.

In a rare intrusion into the world of sport, the United Nations Human Rights Council adopted a resolution last month branding the IAAF rules “unnecessary, humiliating and harmful”.

Imago 20180902 Semenya's testosterone levels are not known to the public. Source: Imago/PA Images

The IAAF has countered that DSD athletes with male levels of testosterone “get the same increases in bone and muscle size and strength and increases in haemoglobin that a male gets when they go through puberty.”

Semenya’s testosterone levels are not publicly known, but she is unlikely to be the only athlete affected by Wednesday’s verdict.

The two athletes who finished behind her in the Rio Olympics 800m, Francine Niyonsaba of Burundi and Kenya’s Margaret Wambui, have also faced questions about their testosterone levels.

- With reporting from AFP

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