Caster Semenya’s challenge of the IAAF’s proposed hyperandrogenism rule has been strongly backed by the government of South Africa, with the minister of sport and recreation Tokozile Xasa stating the two-time Olympic champion has been “targeted”.
Athletics’ governing body in April announced planned protocols affecting women with higher than normal levels of testosterone who compete in track events ranging from the 400 metres up to a mile. The IAAF stated in June those distances were selected because the “performance advantage” of having higher levels of circulating testosterone are “most clearly seen”.
Under the regulations, some female athletes would have to reduce their blood testosterone levels to below five nmol/L for a continuous period of at least six months and then maintain it beneath that level – whether in or out of competition – for so long as a competitor wishes to remain eligible.
Semenya lodged an appeal against the rules with the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) and the case is due to be heard from Monday.
Xasa called on the international community to support Semenya in a statement on Friday, claiming the issue goes beyond competitive sports.
“What’s at stake here is far more than the right to participate in a sport. 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,” said Xasa.
“The new regulations are only applicable to … the categories wherein coincidentally Caster Semenya participates and generally dominates. The logic as to why regulations were restricted to these categories is still unclear, thus compelling us, as a country, to suspect they are targeted to our very own daughter of the soil.”
Xasa added: “The world once declared apartheid as a crime against human rights, we once more call the world to stand with us as we fight what we believe is a gross violation of human rights.”
An IAAF spokesperson told Omnisport its position remains unchanged and it is focused on the overall principle at hand, not any individual athlete.
The governing body also repeated a statement issued in November, which read: “The female category in sport is a protected category. For it to serve its purposes, which include providing females opportunities equal to males, it must have eligibility standards that ensure that athletes who identify as female but have male biology (testes, and testosterone levels in the male range) at least drop their testosterone levels into the female range in order to compete at the elite level in the female classification.
“This standard is necessary to ensure fair competition for all women. Indeed, without it, we risk losing the next generation of female athletes, since they will see no path to success in our sport. The IAAF is confident that the scientific basis by which it has defined the limits of the category – limits which will apply equally to all competitors – will stand up to challenge in the Court of Arbitration for Sport.”
It was reported in The Times this week that IAAF lawyers will state during the impending CAS hearing that Semenya should be classed as a biological male, but the athletics organisation rejected those claims.
“The IAAF is not classifying any DSD [Differences of Sexual Development] athlete as male,” read an IAAF statement released on Wednesday.
“To the contrary, we accept their legal sex without question, and permit them to compete in the female category.
“However 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.
“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.”