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Caster Semenya loses battle: ‘The decision will not hold me back’

PRETORIA SOUTH AFRICA – APRIL 24, 2018: South Africa athlete Caster Semenya (Photo by Gallo Images / Alet Pretorius)

Celebrated South African athlete Caster Semenya has lost her appeal against regulations to be imposed by the International Association of Athletics Federations that will enforce female athletes with testosterone levels higher than five nmol/L to take medication to lower them.

The Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) has dismissed two-time Olympic gold medallist, Caster Semenya’s appeal against new regulations by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) that will see female athletes with “differences in sexual development (DSDs)”, have to take medication to decrease their naturally high testosterone levels.

The ruling affects Semenya and other female athletes competing in the 400m to a mile classification.

Caster Semenya and Athletics South Africa (ASA) requested that the DSD regulations be declared “invalid and void with immediate effect”, as they considered them as being “discriminatory, unnecessary, unreliable and disproportionate”.

This followed the IAAF previously stating that it believes the regulations are necessary to “preserve fair competition in the female category”.

In its ruling announced at noon on May 1, the CAS “found that the DSD Regulations are discriminatory”. However, “on the basis of the evidence submitted by the parties, such discrimination is a necessary, reasonable and proportionate means of achieving the IAAF’s aim of preserving the integrity of female athletics”.

The CAS said it had “dismissed the requests for arbitration considering that Semenya and ASA were unable to establish that the DSD regulations are invalid”.

Semenya has 30 days to appeal the decision at a tribunal, should she wish to.

Reacting to the verdict on Wednesday, Minister of Sport and Recreation, Tokozile Xasa, said in a statement: “Naturally we are disappointed with the judgement, however, we have directed ASA to request a copy of the full judgement. We will study the judgement, consider it and determine a way forward. As the South African government, we have always maintained that these regulations trample on the human rights and dignity of Caster Semenya and other women athletes. We will comment further after studying the full judgment.”

Xasa also extended her thanks to various individuals and organisations that have thrown their support behind Semenya throughout, singling out the United Nations Human Rights Council, which had previously expressed its support.

The kind of support that Ms Semenya received amongst South Africans was heartwarming, it was a true South African spirit of Ubuntu. The international community, through the Human Rights Council of the United Nations, has once more proven to be a body worthy of its name,” Xasa stated.

In a statement released by her legal team, 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. I will once again rise above and continue to inspire young women and athletes in South Africa and around the world.”

Liberty Matthyse of Gender Dynamix, a social justice group, told Daily Maverick: “The verdict by the CAS is a major setback for upholding the human right to dignity, bodily integrity and bodily autonomy of Caster Semenya. The verdict legitimises discrimination on the grounds of sex and bodily characteristic by reinforcing strict binary understandings of what it means to be man or woman in sport.”

Aside from the direct impact that this has on Caster’s career, it is also undoing a lot of the work that human rights, social justice and gender justice activists and institutions have fought long and hard for. This case is testimony that patriarchy, racism and queerphobia are alive and flourishing in the sporting world,” concluded Matthyse.

South African handcycling champion, Palesa Manaleng, told Daily Maverick“It’s heartbreaking that Caster lost her case. The IAAF is playing God. Semenya was born this way and now she must alter who she is to make them comfortable.”

In sports, one athlete is always faster or stronger than the other, that’s why we have first and last place. Are we now saying we need to tell athletes that they shouldn’t be faster or stronger than others, otherwise they will be targeted?” asked Manaleng.

Kamo Magabane, a 36-year-old entrepreneur from the south of Johannesburg told Daily Maverick that “it is indeed a sad day in South Africa when what is a naturally God-given ability becomes the reason to end one’s career. The only time drugs are not allowed is when they enhance performance. But they are perfectly fine to reduce performance”.

Athletes that are affected will need to commence with medication as soon as possible, as the new regulations will come into effect as of 8 May 2019. The next major IAAF event is the Doha Championships in September. DM

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