Caster Semenya wins testosterone case

Mildred Europa Taylor July 11, 2023
Caster Semenya. Photo: Wikimedia Commons/ Tab59

Olympic champion Caster Semenya has won her discrimination case in the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR). The South African runner had argued that she was discriminated against by World Athletics’ testosterone rules that banned her from competing in certain events due to her naturally high levels of the hormone testosterone.

In February 2021, the 32-year-old went to the ECHR after losing appeals to the Court of Arbitration for Sport and the Swiss Federal Tribunal (SFT). In its ruling on Tuesday, the ECHR said that the Swiss government did not protect Semenya from being discriminated against when its Supreme Court declined to overturn a decision by the Court of Arbitration for Sport which upheld the World Athletics’ testosterone rules.

“The court found in particular that the applicant had not been afforded sufficient institutional and procedural safeguards in Switzerland to allow her to have her complaints examined effectively, especially since her complaints concerned substantiated and credible claims of discrimination as a result of her increased testosterone level caused by differences of sex development,” ECHR said in a statement.

“The high stakes of the case for the applicant and the narrow margin of appreciation afforded to the respondent State should have led to a thorough Institutional and procedural review, but the applicant had not been able to obtain such a review.”

Semenya may now be able to challenge again the rules that put a stop to her career. The middle-distance runner came into the limelight in 2009 after she captured the women’s 800m world title with a very impressive time. The sport’s world governing body later announced it would run gender verification tests on her.

“They thought I had a dick, probably,” Semenya recalled in an interview with HBO’s Real Sports. “I told them: ‘It’s fine. I’m a female, I don’t care. If you want to see I’m a woman, I will show you my vagina. All right?’”

Semenya’s gender test report determined she did not have a womb or ovaries. The report also showed that she had internal testes – which are the male testosterone-producing sexual organs – and her hormonal levels for that were three times higher than what a “normal” female would have.

The athlete is said to have a condition called hyperandrogenism. Females who have that condition have excessive testosterone, and that hormone expands muscle mass and strength and how the body can use oxygen, Reuters reported.

In 2011, the International Association of Athletics Federations (now World Athletics) ruled that female athletes with hyperandrogenism had to take medication that would suppress their testosterone levels. And though Semenya took the prescribed medication after that ruling, she recalled it had a negative effect on her, as it made her sick.

Semenya, in 2020, lost her appeal against the Court of Arbitration (CAS) after the Swiss Federal Tribunal (SFT) upheld the CAS’ 2019 ruling that said the new policy for athletes with differences in Disorders of Sex Development (DSD) was “necessary, reasonable and proportionate” to allow for a balanced competition in female sport, The Guardian reported.

The CAS had ruled that female athletes with high testosterone levels had to take suppressants if they wanted to internationally compete in distances between 400m and a mile.

Last Edited by:Mildred Europa Taylor Updated: July 11, 2023

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