After years of ongoing battle between the International Association of Athletics Federation (IAAF) and Caster Semenya, who is an elite track athlete with hyperandrogenism. The IAAF last April adopted a new policy that required female athletes in the 400m, 800m and 1500m events with a serum testosterone level over 5/nmol to take testosterone suppressing drugs. The policy appears to be directed at Semenya as she is the only athlete who competes within those events that it affects.

While the policy was adopted in April 2018, Semenya filed an appeal with the Court Arbitration of Sport (CAS) which lead to a temporary suspension of the IAAF policy until it is heard in court on March 26th, 2019. The IAAF has long argued that Semenya has an unfair advantage over her competitors due to the high amount of testosterone that is natural produced within her system as a result of the hyperandrogenism. Despite the IAAF failing to provide evidence supporting such a claim as required by the CAS from a previous case several years prior involving another athlete with Hyperandrogenism, Dutee Chand.

The IAAF is attempting to define what a “female” solely based on hormone levels, regardless of the actual physiological or biological processes that occur within the body of a female athlete. It limits and control what a “female” is, setting a dangerous precedent that could have a far reaching and negative impacts on sports. It would require female athletes to alter their bodies in order to confirm to the IAAF definition of what a “female” is supposed to be.

In 2009, Semenya was required to undergo an unethical “gender verification test” in which the process and results are still confidential. However, as a result of that test, Semenya has been permitted to compete in the female division since then. Including several appearances at the Olympics and World Championships.

The new rule has been widely criticized, with human rights experts from the United Nations calling it “Unjustifiable” along with outspoken critics including the Women’s Sports Foundation who say that it “undermines the spirit of sports.”

The South African Government is standing behind Semenya, publicly backing their athlete by calling the rule a “gross violation of human rights law” and launched a #NaturallySuperior campaign. Tokozile Xasa, the South African Minister of Sports spoke out in support of Semenya.

“What’s at stake here is far more than the right to participate in a sport,” Xasa told a news conference. “Women’s bodies, their wellbeing, their ability to earn a livelihood, their very identity, their privacy and sense of safety and belonging in the world, are being questioned. This is a gross violation of internationally accepted standards of human rights law.”

The IAAF will submit its arguments based on their original policy guidelines.

“If a DSD athlete has testes and male levels of testosterone, they get the same increases in bone and muscle size and strength and increases in haemoglobin that a male gets when they go through puberty, which is what gives men such a performance advantage over women,” they said. “Therefore, to preserve fair competition in the female category, it is necessary to require DSD athletes to reduce their testosterone down to female levels before they compete at international level.”

The official hearings began on Monday, February 18th at the CAS. With the final decision expected on March 26th.

By Dirk Smith