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South Africa's Caster Semenya. (REUTERS/Eric Gaillard)
South Africa's Caster Semenya. (REUTERS/Eric Gaillard)

Shaky science

‘I just want to run naturally’: Rule banning Caster Semenya from competition is upheld

By WITW Staff on May 2, 2019

In a ruling on Wednesday from the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), Olympic champion Caster Semenya lost her challenge to the International Association of Athletics Federations’s ban on female athletes with comparatively elevated testosterone levels.

Despite acknowledging that the IAAF’s ban was discriminatory, the court ruled 2-to-1 that the ban was a “necessary, reasonable and proportionate means” of maintaining the integrity of women’s competition. As a result, Semenya and other female athletes classified as DSDs — an acronym signifying differences in sexual development — will be barred from competing in track events from 400 meters to one mile unless they agree to undergo hormone therapy for six months before competition to reduce their testosterone levels.

In a statement, lawyers for Semenya called the ruling absurd, noting that the IAAF had been striving to impose rules that would specifically bar her from competition since she won the 800 meter event at the 2009 World Championships at 18 years old.

“I know that the IAAF’s regulations have always targeted me specifically,” the statement read. “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.”

After Semenya’s dominating 2009 victory, the IAAF public questioned whether she was a woman, barring her from competition for months and subjecting her to invasive and humiliating sex test procedures. In 2015, the IAAF moved to ban DSD athletes from competition altogether in a move that was later struck down by the CAS.

In an attempt to bolster their latest ban on DSD athletes in races of 400 meters to one mile, the IAFF funded a controversial study that showed that DSD athletes gained a competitive advantage of 1.78 to 4.53 percent in 400 and 800 meter races. Critics of the study have questioned the science behind it and asked why the IAAF wasn’t also moving to ban DSD athletes in the sports such as the hammer throw and pole vault — the two sports that showed the highest performance advantage for DSD athletes, according to the IAFF’s own study.

“I just want to run naturally, the way I was born,” Semenya said when asked about the controversy last summer. “It is not fair that I am told I must change. It is not fair that people question who I am.”

Read the full story at the New York Times.

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