South African 800m olympic champion, Caster Semenya faces the risk of not competing in the International Association of Athletics Federation (IAAF) 2019 events as the federation is planning to restrict the testosterone levels for athletes with differences of sexual development (DSD).
The delay means DSD athletes with high testosterone will not be allowed to run for six months from the date any rule change comes in, which may see Semenya miss most of the 2019 outdoor season.
The federation has proposed that female athletes maintain their testosterone levels before events to promote fair competition. IAAF claim that the 28-year-old South African is a ‘biological male’ because of her high testosterone levels but denied classifying her as a male competitor. The new gender rules that were set to kick off in November last year were halted when Semenya challenged them.
She filed a case with the Court of Arbitration of sports (CAS) stating she expects to be treated as the woman she is and allowed to compete with fellow women for medals. The rules will apply to women in track events from 400m up to the mile and require that athletes have to keep their testosterone levels below a prescribed amount “for at least six months prior to competing”.
In a statement, Semenya’s lawyers said that their client is asking for her right to compete without undergoing medical intervention. “Ms Semenya is unquestionably a woman,” the statement said, “She is fighting for her right to run without being required to undergo unnecessary medical intervention – she is fighting to run free.”
In the proposed gender rules, IAAF claimed that it accepted the legal sex of ‘differences of sexual development’ DSD athletes – of whom Semenya is the most notable – “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.
The federation was planning to promote fair competition in international events by reducing the testosterone levels of DSD athletes down to female levels before being allowed to compete. In Semenya’s challenge, she wants to be treated as a woman as she was born and raised so. She said this when she announced that she will challenge the new rules last year.
“It is not fair. I just want to run naturally, the way I was born. I am Mokgadi Caster Semenya. I am a woman and I am fast.” the two time 800m Olympic Champion said.
The South African government as well as Cricket SA have thrown their weight behind her.
“The world once declared apartheid a crime against human rights,” sports minister Thokozile Xasa said.
“We once more call the world to stand with us as we fight what we believe is a gross violation of human rights.”
“Women’s bodies, their very identity, their privacy and sense of safety and belonging in the world, are being questioned,” she said.
“Our history as a nation was in the main based on the defence of our people against their human rights violation – that all humans are created equal.
“This is a gross violation of internationally accepted standards of human rights law.”
Athletics South Africa also gave world champion Semenya its “unqualified support”.