Following an intense legal battle, years of discrimination and controversy over her right to compete. The Court Arbitration of Sport has ruled against Caster Semenya and in favor of the International Association of Athletics Federations’ ‘Semenya Rule’ policy. The policy requires pharmaceutical intervention if an athlete competing in the female division in the 400m, 800m and 1500m events has a serum testosterone level over 5/nmol.

The policy has led to a lot of criticism and heated debated, particularly in that it appears to be unfairly targeted at the 2012 and 2016 Olympic Champion Caster Semenya, who is the highest profile athlete so far affected by the policy. Semenya lives with Hyperandrogenism which means that her body naturally produces high levels of androgens (male hormones such as testosterone).

The decision was announced by the Court Arbitration for Sport in a statement posted on their website, after three judges spent two months evaluating the arguments, examining the evidence and deliberating over the case. While the CAS acknowledged that the IAAF policy was discriminatory towards athletes with Different Sexual Developments (DSDs), they stated that Semenya and the Athletics South Africa (ASA) were “unable to establish the DSD regulations invalid.” They also found 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.“

The announcement will potentially destroy Semenya’s career or at best, set it back significantly. Semenya has fought for 10+ years against challenges to her gender identity, even going so far as to being required to undergo a “sex verification test” which despite the challenges, has always been cleared to compete in the female division in Track and Field.

Even with the ruling, the CAS panel has shared “serious concerns” about the practical application of the IAAF’s policy. They included the difficulties of implementing the regulations with an maximum testosterone limit, the difficulty to rely on concrete evidence of “actual significant advantage by a sufficient number of 46 XY DSD athletes in the 1500m and 1 mile events” and finally; the side effects of the hormone treatment that would be required to bring testosterone levels to the required levels.

In a statement shared with The Guardian, Dr Stéphane Bermon, head of the IAAF’s health and science department stateted…

“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.”

Several large and prominent organizations, including the United Nations, American Civil Liberties Union and Athletics South Africa have challenged the gender binary in sports, stating that it does not reflect the true diversity of biological sex in sports. This comes as more transgender, non-binary and intersex athletes fight for their right to participate in sports. Semenya and ASA have 30 days to appeal the ruling in the Swiss Federal Tribunal.

By Dirk Smith