Caster Semenya out of the running — but not the battle

Caster Semenya out of the running — but not the battle
Caster Semenya of South Africa from Team Africa in action during the mixed 4x400m relay at the IAAF Continental Cup in Ostrava, Czech Republic in September 2018. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Martin Divisek)

Caster Semenya may not be eligible to defend her 800m world title at the Doha Championships after a Swiss court overruled its initial decision that effectively allowed her to continue running, but the athlete will not let the latest setback foil her fight to compete freely as a woman

The war between Caster Semenya and the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) took another twist on Tuesday 30 July when the Swiss Federal Tribunal (SFT) overturned its initial decision to force the IAAF to temporarily suspend the implementation of its regulations relating to female runners with high testosterone levels or differences of sexual development (DSD).

This means, with no date set yet to hear her appeal, Semenya won’t be able to defend her 800m world title at the Doha World Championships in September.

Responding to the decision through her public relations team, Semenya said:

“I am very disappointed to be kept from defending my hard-earned title, but this will not deter me from continuing my fight for the human rights of all the female athletes concerned.”

The IAAF welcomed the Swiss court’s decision, saying: “This decision creates much-needed parity and clarity for all athletes as they prepare for the World Championships in Doha this September.

In the remainder of the proceedings before the SFT, the IAAF will maintain its position that there are some contexts, sport being one of them, where biology has to trump gender identity, which is why the IAAF believes (and the CAS [Court of Arbitration for Sport] agreed) that the DSD regulations are a necessary, reasonable and proportionate means of protecting fair and meaningful competition in elite female athletics.”

A member of Semenya’s legal team, Gregory Nott told Daily Maverick that despite this latest setback, “The mood in the camp is still positive with our appeal still to be heard. We will fight for her fundamental rights until the end of this legal process. We also recognise that this is a landmark case with implications that go far beyond Caster’s rights and she recognises that. The single judge’s decision has no impact on Caster’s appeal”.

Semenya lost her initial appeal to have the IAAF regulations declared unfair and discriminatory against female athletes, and the CAS ordered her to comply with the new regulations and take medication to lower her testosterone levels if she wants to compete in events of 1,500m or shorter. She and her legal team then filed an appeal to the Swiss Federal Tribunal, arguing that the regulations are “a violation of human rights”.

While the appeal was pending, the Swiss court allowed Semenya to continue competing without taking the hormone suppressants. It was during this time that she won the 800m at the Prefontaine Classic in June, breaking the tape in 1:55.70.

She also competed in and won a 2,000m race in mid-June in Paris, after which the 28-year-old made it clear that she will not medicate to bring down her testosterone levels.

I’m not an idiot. Why will I take drugs? I’m a pure athlete. I don’t cheat. They should focus on doping, not us. I’m never going to take drugs,” the two-time Olympic 800m champion said.

Dorothee Schramm, another member of Semenya’s legal team, said the IAAF might have won the battle, but the war for equity is still ongoing.

We will continue to pursue Caster’s appeal and fight for her fundamental human rights. A race is always decided at the finish line.” DM


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