Olympic champ can’t defend 800m title in Tokyo without taking medication or surgery
Two-time Olympic champion Caster Semenya lost her long legal battle Tuesday against track and field’s rules that limit female runners’ naturally high testosterone levels.
Switzerland’s supreme court said its judges dismissed Semenya’s appeal against a Court of Arbitration for Sport ruling last year that upheld the rules drafted by track’s governing body affecting female runners with differences of sex development.
The 71-page ruling means Semenya cannot defend her Olympic 800-meter title at the Tokyo Games next year — or compete at any top meets in distances from 400 metres to the mile — unless she agrees to lower her testosterone level through medication or surgery.
The 29-year-old South African repeatedly said she will not do that and reiterated her stance in a statement through her lawyers Tuesday.
“I am very disappointed by this ruling, but refuse to let World Athletics drug me or stop me from being who I am,” Semenya said. “Excluding female athletes or endangering our health solely because of our natural abilities puts World Athletics on the wrong side of history.”
The Swiss Federal Tribunal said Semenya’s appeal “essentially alleges a violation of the prohibition of discrimination.”
“I will continue to fight for the human rights of female athletes, both on the track and off the track, until we can run free the way we were born.”
In a May 2019 verdict, the sport court’s three judges had said in a 2-to-1 ruling the discrimination against Semenya was “necessary, reasonable and proportionate” to maintain fairness in women’s track. Testosterone is a hormone that strengthens muscle tone and bone mass, and is a doping product if injected or ingested.
The panel of five federal judges said it was limited to examining “whether the CAS decision violates fundamental and widely recognized principles of public order. That is not the case.”
Semenya’s “guarantee of human dignity” was also not compromised by the CAS ruling, the judges decided.
“Implicated female athletes are free to refuse treatment to lower testosterone levels. The decision also does not aim to question in any way the female sex of implicated female athletes,” the federal court said.
Higher levels than typical female range
Reacting to the verdict, Semenya said: “I will continue to fight for the human rights of female athletes, both on the track and off the track, until we can all run free the way we were born. I know what is right and will do all I can to protect basic human rights, for young girls everywhere.”
Although exact details of Semenya’s condition have never been released since she won the first of her three world titles in 2009 as a teenager, she has testosterone levels that are higher than the typical female range. The Swiss court statement Tuesday referred to female runners with “the genetic variant ’46 XY DSD’.”
World Athletics argued that gave her and other female athletes like her with DSD conditions and high natural testosterone an unfair advantage.