Caster Semenya no longer barred from competing as a woman – court rules

June 03, 2019 at 02:30 pm | News

Mildred Europa Taylor

Mildred Europa Taylor | Associate Editor

June 03, 2019 at 02:30 pm | News

Caster Semenya. Pic credit; curvemag.com

Caster Semenya, the South African middle-distance runner and two-time 800m Olympic champion will no longer be required to take testosterone suppressants to compete after a Swiss court temporarily suspended a new ruling by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF).

The Federal Supreme Court of Switzerland has ordered the IAAF, the international athletics body, to suspend its female eligibility regulations with immediate effect, Semenya’s lawyers said in a statement.

This means she will be able to compete in the 400m, 800m and 1,500m races while the appeal is pending, reports TimesLIVE.

Last month, the 28-year-old Olympian was told she could no longer be allowed to compete in her present state due to her rare genetic traits. The Court of Arbitration in Sport (CAS) agreed with the IAAF that Semenya’s natural testosterone is too high for her to compete with women.

Semenya, who was born with intersex traits, had challenged the IAAF – the governing body of world athletics –over its decision to restrict testosterone levels in female runners for distances between 400m and a mile.

But a ruling in May said that the middle-distance runner would have to take testosterone suppressants if she wants to compete in such shorter events. Following the ruling by CAS, the South African middle-distance runner took her appeal to the Federal Supreme Court of Switzerland, citing the need to defend “fundamental human rights”, reports the BBC.

According to her legal representative, Dorothee Schramm, “The court has granted welcome temporary protection to Caster Semenya.

“This is an important case that will have fundamental implications for the human rights of female athletes.”

The IAAF was, however, yet to be notified of the new decision from the Swiss court, as at the time of filing this story.

Semenya shot to fame in 2009 when she won the world 800m title. Critics later started raising questions about her sex, which made her spend 11 months on the sidelines when the IAAF conducted a gender verification process.

The Limpopo-born runner was later said to be taking medication to lower her testosterone level until 2015 when the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) suspended an IAAF rule that enforced a limit on naturally occurring levels.

The new IAAF regulations restricting testosterone to five nanomoles per litre for at least six months before a competitive event in female athletes were expected to kick in on May 8.

Experts say that typical women have testosterone levels under two nanomoles per litre.

Semenya’s lawyers had earlier said that their client’s “unique genetic gift should be celebrated, not regulated.” Supporters of the South African Olympic gold medalist agree and have since rallied behind her when news broke that she had lost the case at the CAS.

For many, the ruling by CAS was sexist, discriminatory, and unfair, considering the athlete is only being penalized for the biological traits she was born with while others in similar positions have been ignored.

Others argued that the ruling was obviously racist.

Bruce Kidd, a former Olympian and Kinesiology professor at the University of Toronto, earlier told CBC that the IAAF’s new rules only include events that black athletes have historically dominated.

“They have identified seven events where they think there is a correlation [between testosterone levels and performance]. Two of them are the pole vault and hammer throw and they have not made them part of this new rule, and those are events that are dominated by white women. They have targeted the mile, an event that is currently dominated by black women. And the mile isn’t even part of their study. It’s hard not to draw the conclusion this is a racist, targeted test.”

Kyle Knight, a researcher in the LGBT rights program at Human Rights Watch further believed that taking the proposed IAAF testosterone suppressants would be as “humiliating as it is medically unnecessary” for female athletes whose hormone levels are outside what is accepted.

Semenya had raised issues about the issue in 2017 with the New York Times: “I just want to run naturally, the way I was born. It is not fair that I am told I must change. It is not fair that people question who I am.”

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