Times caption: Caster Semenya celebrates winning a Commonwealth gold last year (GARY MITCHELL/ALAMY)
A piece by Martyn Zielger, Chief Sports Reporter, in today’s Times:
Caster Semenya, the double Olympic gold medal winner in the women’s 800 metres, is a “biological male” who should be required to take testosterone blockers to continue competing as female, a court will be told next week.
The hearing in Lausanne, Switzerland, will be a test case for athletes with “differences of sexual development” (DSD) and is likely to influence rules surrounding transgender athletes taking part in women’s sport.
Lawyers for the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) are preparing to argue at the Court of Arbitration of Sport that Semenya, 28, and other runners like her should be treated as female but are biologically male and should take testosterone suppressants before competing in middle-distance events in which the hormone has its greatest effect.
Semenya, a South African, and her athletics association are challenging IAAF rules that DSD runners should be forced to take testosterone blockers, usually in the form of a contraceptive pill. The case is set to further polarise views over “intersex” athletes. Last year the United Nations’ human rights special procedures body urged the IAAF to drop the proposed regulations, claiming that they contravene international human rights. Human Rights Watch has also said that the rules discriminate against women with naturally high testosterone levels.
The result of the women’s 800m final at the Rio 2016 Olympics encapsulated the difficulties faced by athletics.
As well as Semenya, who won the event, the silver and bronze medallists, Francine Niyonsaba of Burundi and Margaret Wambui of Kenya, have also faced questions about their testosterone levels. Britain’s Lynsey Sharp, who finished sixth, said before the race: “Everyone can see that it’s two separate races so there is nothing I can do.”
The IAAF stressed that it was “not classifying any DSD athlete as male. To the contrary, we accept their legal sex without question, and permit them to compete in the female category.
“However, if a DSD athlete has testes and male levels of testosterone, they get the same increases in bone and muscle size and strength and increases in haemoglobin that a male gets when they go through puberty, which is what gives men such a performance advantage over women. Therefore, to preserve fair competition in the female category, it is necessary to require DSD athletes to reduce their testosterone down to female levels before they compete at international level.”
Jonathan Taylor, the IAAF’s London-based lawyer, said that if the case went against the athletics body it would be a serious blow to women athletes with normal levels of testosterone, which are on average 15 times lower than the normal male range.
Mr Taylor said that such a ruling would mean that “DSD and transgender athletes will dominate the podiums and prize money in sport, and women with normal female testosterone levels will not have any chance to win.”
The court will hear evidence that Semenya and some other DSD athletes were born genetically male. They have 46 XY chromosomes and a condition which inhibited the growth of external male genitals, but still have internal testes which produce normal male levels of testosterone, it will be argued. [J4MB emphasis.]
It has been estimated that Semenya’s time for the 800m would drop by five to seven seconds if she were forced to take testosterone blockers.
Jim Bunting, Semenya’s lawyer, said: “Ms Semenya is unquestionably a woman, a heroine and an inspiration to so many around the world. She looks forward to responding to the IAAF at the upcoming CAS hearing, including establishing why these regulations are discriminatory, unfair, deeply harmful and unnecessary.”
Semenya said last year: “I am very upset that I have been pushed into the public spotlight again. I don’t like talking about this new rule.
“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. I am Mokgadi Caster Semenya. I am a woman and I am fast.”
Semenya was born in a village in northern South Africa. She won the world junior 800m title in 2009 and the senior world 800m the following year, but only after taking a gender verification test. She is expected to attend Monday’s hearing, as is Lord Coe, president of the IAAF.
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