World 800m champion Caster Semenya has lost her appeal against an IAAF ruling she must take medication to reduce her testosterone levels. Picture: AP
World 800m champion Caster Semenya has lost her appeal against an IAAF ruling she must take medication to reduce her testosterone levels. Picture: AP

Semenya loss: A violation of rights or landmark win?

Hailed by some as a landmark victory for women's sport, while slammed by others as a violation of human rights, Olympic and world middle-distance running champion Caster Semenya has lost her legal appeal to continue competing as a woman without lowering her elevated hormone levels.

 

In one of the most contentious cases the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) has ever ruled on, the Swiss-based court rejected Semenya's bid to overturn the controversial new regulations introduced by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF).

 

The verdict means athletes who identify as female but have testes or testosterone levels in the male range, will have to take medication to artificially reduce their levels to the same range as women.

World 800m champion Caster Semenya has lost her appeal against an IAAF ruling she must take medication to reduce her testosterone levels. Picture: AP
World 800m champion Caster Semenya has lost her appeal against an IAAF ruling she must take medication to reduce her testosterone levels. Picture: AP

The regulations will come into force next week and will apply to this year's world championships and next year's Tokyo Olympics.

 

Semenya, who has dominated the women's 800 metres for the past decade, argued that it's unfair to force athletes to reduce naturally occurring testosterone levels.

 

But the IAAF said the rules were necessary to create a level playing field, with President Sebastian Coe exclusively telling News Corp Australia before the verdict was announced: "It is a very, very simple principle. It's the protection of fair competition and fair play.

 

"The reason we have gender classifications is because if you didn't then no woman would ever win another title or another medal or break another record in our sport."

 

Semenya responded with a post on Twitter:

 

 

She also released a statement which read:

 

"I know that the IAAF's regulations have always targeted me specifically," Semenya said in a statement.

 

"For a decade the IAAF has tried to slow me down, but this has actually made me stronger. The decision of the CAS 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."

 

Had the IAAF lost the case, there were genuine fears it would trigger the end of traditional male and female gender categories in sport, by opening the floodgates to intersex, transgender and Difference of Sexual Development (DSD) athletes.

 

IAAF boss Sebastian Coe said rules were needed to protect women’s sport. Picture: AAP
IAAF boss Sebastian Coe said rules were needed to protect women’s sport. Picture: AAP

It's already happening in junior sports and some countries had begun actively looking for youths with the same rare condition as Semenya, known as hyperandrogenism, to fast track them into elite sports had she won the case.

 

British marathon world record holder Paula Radcliffe said it would be "the death of women's sport" if the South African won, while Semenya's lawyers hit back by insisting her "genetic gift should be celebrated, not discriminated against."

 

 

CAS agreed with Semenya that the IAAF regulations were discriminatory but still sided with the athletics' body because of the need to protect women's sport.

 

"The majority of the Panel 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," CAS said in a statement outlining its decision.

 

CAS did express some concerns about how the new rules will be applied, which the IAAF noted in its initial response, saying it was "pleased that the regulations were found to be a necessary, reasonable and proportionate means of achieving the IAAF's legitimate aim of preserving the integrity of female athletics in the Restricted Events."

 

The decision is already being furiously debated, with tennis legend Martina Navratilova strongly disagreeing with the ruling, posting on her website: "The verdict against Semenya is dreadfully unfair to her and wrong in principle. She has done nothing wrong and it is awful that she will now have to take drugs to be able to compete. General rules should not be made from exceptional cases and the question of transgender athletes remains unresolved."

 

Semenya's own response was more restrained, with a simple posting on her Twitter account, saying: Sometimes it's better to react with no reaction."