Olympian Caster Semenya has condemned a sports official's defense of an international mandate requiring women with naturally high testosterone to medically alter their hormone levels, and the idea that she poses "a threat to women's sport."
Semenya, a 28-year-old middle-distance runner from South Africa who won gold at the 2012 and 2016 Olympic Games, recently appealed a 2018 change in International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) policy that forces female athletes identified as having differences in sexual development (DSDs) like Semenya to medically suppress their blood testosterone levels before competing in certain sports.
The Court of Arbitration for Sport has delayed its verdict on Semenya's appeal to April, Law360 reports, but debate over the policy continues in the court of public opinion. Over the weekend, IAAF President Sebastian Coe defended the arguably extreme policy, telling Australia's Daily Telegraph that it's there to protect "fair competition and fair play."
"The reason we have gender classification is because if you didn't, then no woman would ever win another title or another medal or break another record in our sport," he continued.
Semenya, who has endured speculation and debate over her place in women's sports for a full decade now, responded to Coe in a statement through her lawyers.
"Mr. Coe is wrong to think Ms.Semenya is a threat to women's sport," the statement reads, per Reuters. "Reading the comments of Mr. Coe this weekend opened those old wounds and the reference by [The Daily Telegraph] to 'the muscle-packed Semenya' is just the latest illustration of how the issues have been distorted by innuendo."
Semenya's case and those involving cis women athletes with DSDs more broadly shares many similarities with cases involving trans women athletes, particularly the mandated suppression and regulation of testosterone levels. "That is a different issue," Semenya's statement reads, although its content evokes parallel concerns over self-determination and physical autonomy.
"[Caster Semenya] was born a woman, raised a woman, socialized as a woman, and has competed as a woman her entire life," the statement reads. "Ms. Semenya does not wish to undergo medical intervention to change who she is and how she was born. She wants to compete naturally."
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