The international governing body of athletic track and field events has defeated an appeal by two-time Olympic champion Caster Semenya challenging the organization’s requirement that the South African runner must medically lower her testosterone levels to race in some sanctioned events for women. The Associated Press is reporting the 71-page ruling by the Swiss supreme court means Semenya cannot defend her title in her events at the upcoming Tokyo Olympics unless she agrees to the testosterone modifications. The 29-year-old Semenya has previously indicated she will not subject herself to further testosterone modifications as required by the World Athletics.
“I am very disappointed by this ruling, but refuse to let World Athletics drug me or stop me from being who I am,” Semenya is quoted by AP. “Excluding female athletes or endangering our health solely because of our natural abilities puts World Athletics on the wrong side of history.”
The story of Semenya and the World Athletics (formerly known as the International Amateur Athletic Federation and International Association of Athletics Federations, or IAAF) is a long and convoluted one dating back many years. Beginning in 2009, the organization has variously requested both drug and sex verification as a result of complaints and Semenya's rapid rates of improvement over a short period of time. As Michelle Garcia reported in our cover story in the Olympian, "she was subjected to rounds of gender testing, reportedly involving analysis by an endocrinologist, a psychologist, a gender expert, an internist; most humiliating was a gynecological exam that included photographing her genitals while her feet were in stirrups." The group also applied testing requirements for events in which Semenya excelled, such as the 800 meter race in 2018, while allowing other races to remain exempt.
While the exact nature of the dispute involving Semenya and World Athletics has never been publicly revealed, the Swiss court did reference “the genetic variant ‘46 XY DSD’” in its ruling, which the National Institutes of Health describe as a condition in which an individual has “one X chromosome and one Y chromosome in each cell, the pattern normally found in males” and having “genitalia that is not clearly male or female.”
The court’s ruling claimed it was not meant to judge “implicated female athletes” and that they were “free to refuse treatment to lower testosterone levels.” Semenya feels otherwise, though, and intends to continue her fight for equality.
“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," she said. "I know what is right and will do all I can to protect basic human rights, for young girls everywhere.”