Xtra Weekly
3 min

Xtra Weekly: The IAAF and Caster Semenya’s decade-long battle

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Caster Semenya, the current 800m Olympic gold and world champion from South Africa, lost her appeal Wednesday against rules designed to decrease naturally high testosterone levels in some female runners. Credit: Bebeto Matthews/AP, Francesca Roh/Xtra

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South African track champion Caster Semenya has lost a landmark case against the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) over its regulation of female athletes’ testosterone levels.

Here’s a background 👉The IAAF is a governing body that standardizes rules of competitive athleticss and also keeps track of world records. In 2009, the organization requested the then-18-year-old Caster Semenya be subjected to a “gender-verification process” after she won the gold medal in the women’s 800m event at the IAAF World Championships.

Semenya is a woman who has differences in sex development — she was born with hyperandrogenism, a condition characterized by excess levels of androgens, such as testosterone. The IAAF’s sex verification targets women with similar sex development differences, or those who are intersex. In most cases, these women have either been banned, suspended or forced to take hormones to suppress their natural testosterone or have surgery to remove internal testes.

The IAAF claims this is out of fairness for other female competitors. But singling out testosterone as the biggest concern when there is a range of variables that contribute to the success or strength of an athlete is not only problematic, it’s not scientifically proven. A review by Harvard University endocrinologists found that it was unclear whether high testosterone in women “confers any competitive advantage.”

In a statement, Semenya called these tests “unwarranted and invasive.” Her experience in 2009 was just the beginning: in 2011, the organization implemented new regulations restricting the permitted level of testosterone in female athletes, which was later overturned in 2015 only to be re-adopted in April 2018.

In last year’s ruling, the IAAF said female athletes with high levels of testosterone must take hormone suppressants if they wanted to compete in races ranging from 400 m to a mile. Semenya called the IAAF’s ruling “discriminatory, irrational,unjustifiable” and announced in June 2018 that she would be taking a case against the IAAF to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) — the highest court in the world of sports.

The latest 👉On Wednesday, the CAS announced that, though it agreed the IAAF’s policy on testosterone levels is “discriminatory” to female athletes like Semenya, it is “necessary, reasonable and proportionate” in order to maintain fair competition among female athletes. It also ruled that discrimination in sport is legal provided it is justified.

In a statement from her lawyer, Semenya said “I know that the IAAF’s regulations have always targeted me specifically . . . For a decade the IAAF has tried to slow me down, but this has actually made me stronger. The decision of the CAS will not hold me back.”

Xtra’s senior editor, Eternity Martis, broke down five important things to know about the ruling.

with files from Eternity Martis


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