LAUSANNE – The Court of Arbitration for Sport on Wednesday rejected Caster Semenya’s challenge against IAAF rules forcing her to lower her testosterone levels to compete with women, even as judges labelled the regulations “discriminatory.”
The three judge panel found that the rules targeting athletes with differences in sexual development (DSD) were “discriminatory” but that “such discrimination is a necessary, reasonable and proportionate means of achieving the IAAF’s aim of preserving the integrity of female athletics”.
The IAAF says the rules are essential to preserve a level playing field and ensure that all female athletes can see “a path to success.”
But Semenya’s cause has earned widespread support, including by a global coalition of nations and scientific experts who argue that testosterone is an arbitrary and unfair measure for determining gender.
The CAS in Lausanne, Switzerland heard a week of arguments in the case in February.
Semenya, who has dominated the 800m race over the last decade, has remained largely silent through the court battle, excluding statements from her legal team condemning the IAAF’s tactics and policies.
But scores of others have vocally rallied behind her.
In a rare intrusion into the world of sport, the United Nations Human Rights Council adopted a resolution last month branding the IAAF rules “unnecessary, humiliating and harmful.”
With unanimous support from the council’s 47 member-states representing every continent, the resolution marked a stunning rebuke for the IAAF.
Tennis legend Martina Navratilova is among a long-list of athletes who have backed Semenya.
But her most fervent support has come from South Africa, where the government has accused the IAAF of seeking to violate women’s bodies and levelled racism charges against the athletics governing body.
Experts have meanwhile argued that barring certain women from competition due to naturally high testosterone levels would be like excluding basketball players because they are too tall.
Multiple scientists have noted that achieving excellence in sport is a combination of training, commitment as well as genetics and that excluding people from competition over a single genetic factor has no scientific basis.
The IAAF rules capping testosterone levels in women athletes at five nanomoles per litre (nmol/L) of blood were instituted in November 2018 but have been suspended pending Wednesday’s verdict.
The IAAF, led by British track champion Sebastian Coe, has maintained that its case is simply about fairness.
DSD athletes with male levels of testosterone “get the same increases in bone and muscle size and strength and increases in haemoglobin that a male gets when they go through puberty,” the federation has said.
Ensuring that all women athletes have female levels of testosterone is therefore necessary “to preserve fair competition in the female category,” it added.