South African Athlete, Semenya, Wins Appeal Against Testosterone Rules

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By Chidera Abaratu, Journalism Mentee

South African Athlete, Caster Semenya has won an appeal at the European Court of Human Rights in a case involving women’s testosterone levels.

Semenya, a 32-year-old double 800m Olympic champion diagnosed with Differences in Sexual Development (DSD), has refused to take the testosterone-lowering drugs that the sport’s international governing body, World Athletics, has prescribed if she wants to run at her preferred distance. A 4-3 vote of the justices on the Strasbourg-based rights court decided in Semenya’s favour.

The Court of Arbitration for Sport and Switzerland’s Supreme Court rejected the South African runner’s two prior appeals against the rules, thereby depriving her of an “effective remedy” against what was considered a prejudice.

She has twice failed to change the contentious World Athletics rules that mandate women with high testosterone take medicine to participate internationally in events within 400 meters and a mile.

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Last week, she announced on social media that she would attempt it for the third time. “I hope the European court will end the longstanding human rights violations by World Athletics against women athletes. All we ask is to be allowed to run free, for once and for all, as the strong and fearless women we have always been.”

The South African was almost unbeatable until World Athletics established a new rule for athletes with DSD, which required them to lower their testosterone levels to less than five nmol/L to compete in elite races between the 400m and the mile. It claimed that more than 99% of females have 0.1–1.79 nmol/L of testosterone in their bodies, supporting the justification of the policy. Male DSDs range from 7.7 to 29.4 nmol/L.

This rule was reaffirmed in 2019 by the Court of Arbitration for Sport, which ruled that it was just given that DSD athletes—including Semenya—had a significant edge in terms of stature, strength, and power from adolescence onward due to their elevated testosterone levels.

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The 32-year-old’s victory is primarily symbolic as it neither challenges the World Athletics decision nor clears the path for Semenya to compete in the 800 metres again.

Semenya took home gold at the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro in 2016 and in London in 2012.


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Chidera Abaratu, PBA Journalism Mentee
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