A landmark ruling concerning one of the most contested issues in sport — gender identity — has sent shockwaves through track and field in setting out new parameters for female athletes.
On Wednesday, double Olympic champion Caster Semenya lost her appeal against the introduction of new rules regulating the testosterone levels for athletes with a difference in sex development (DSD).
The 28-year-old South African, who is Hyperandrogenism — meaning she has elevated levels of testosterone — will now need to take medication to reduce her testosterone if she wants to compete internationally at events between 400 meters and one mile. Semenya is the dominant force in women’s middle distance running.
In its ruling the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) announced that its three-person panel had rejected Semenya’s challenge against athletics’ governing body — the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) — “by majority” but did add that it had “serious concerns as to the future practical application” of the new rules.
Under the IAAF’s policy, which will now come into effect on May 8, all DSD athletes, who are usually born with testes, would have to reduce their blood testosterone levels to below five nmol/L for a continuous period of at least six months, and maintain those levels continuously for the rest of their athletic career, if they want to compete internationally at middle-distance events.
Hyperandrogenism is a medical condition estimated to occur in 5% to 10% of women.
An excess of testosterone has been found to increase muscle mass within females and cause increased strength, stamina and physical energy.
Some critics argue that skews what should be a level playing field in women’s athletics.
The IAAF believes DSD athletes have a competitive advantage — findings that were disputed by Semenya and her legal team.
A CAS statement said the panel was unable to establish that the DSD regulations were “invalid.” Although the Swiss organization also found the policy was discriminatory to athletes with DSD, CAS said “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.”
It was a conclusion Semenya — who has 30 days to appeal the CAS ruling to the Swiss Federal Tribunal — described as disappointing.
“I know that the IAAF’s regulations have always targeted me specifically. For a decade the IAAF has tried to slow me down, but this has actually made me stronger,” Semenya, the most dominant middle-distance runner of her generation, said in a statement released by her representatives.
“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.”
Semenya’s representatives said the Olympian was pleased that CAS had found the IAAF rules to be discriminatory against DSD athletes, but was disappointed that two of the arbitrators had deemed such discrimination to be necessary.
“Ms Semenya is reviewing the decision with her legal team and considering whether to file an appeal,” the statement continued.
Whether Wednesday’s decision draws a line in the sand for track and field’s governing body over such a complex issue remains to be seen.
Within the statement, CAS expressed some concerns over the application of the IAAF regulations, which included: the unintentional non-compliance of the strict testosterone levels, the absence of concrete evidence on the advantage higher testosterone gives athletes at distances over 1500 meters and the “practical impossibility” of compliance.
Referring to potential health issues, CAS said: “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.”
Source: Aimee Lewis and Eoghan Macguire