Olympic Champion Runner Wins Appeal Against Testosterone Rules

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Austris Augusts, Unsplash

The European Court of Human Rights ruled Tuesday that Olympic runner Caster Semenya was discriminated against by rules in track and field that force her to medically reduce her natural hormone levels to compete.

However, Semenya's win didn’t strike down the rules, and the world track and field body said soon after it was released that the contentious testosterone regulations would “remain in place,” the Associated Press reported

Prior to Tuesday, Semenya had failed twice appealing in sports’ highest court in 2019 and the Swiss supreme court in 2020.

Semenya, 32, of South Africa, is fighting to be allowed to run again without restrictions, a change that might take years, if it happens at all. The AP reported that it’s unlikely she’d be able to go for another gold in the 800 meters at next year’s Olympics in Paris. Next month’s world championships, where she has won three titles, are not likely not an option.

Semenya's legal challenge has taken five years, and it could take equally as long for the process of rolling back the cases through the different courts.

Tuesday’s ruling, although significant and a victory for Semenya, only opened the way for the Swiss supreme court to reconsider its decision. That might result in the case going back to the Court of Arbitration for Sport in Lausanne. Only then might the rules enforced by world track body World Athletics be possibly removed.

Semenya’s lawyers said in a statement that the victory established an important principle.

“Caster has never given up her fight to be allowed to compete and run free,” Semenya’s lawyers said. “This important personal win for her is also a wider victory for elite athletes around the world. It means that sporting governance bodies around the world must finally recognize that human rights law and norms apply to the athletes they regulate.”

Semenya has been barred by the rules from running in her favorite 800-meter race since 2019 because she has refused to artificially suppress her testosterone. She has lost four years of her career at her peak.

“We remain of the view that the ... regulations are a necessary, reasonable and proportionate means of protecting fair competition in the female category as the Court of Arbitration for Sport and Swiss Federal Tribunal both found,” World Athletics said.

The AP reported that Semenya’s case is not the same as the debate over transgender women who have transitioned from male to female being allowed to compete in sports, although the two issues do have crossover.

Semenya was identified as female at birth, raised as a girl and has been legally identified as female her entire life. She has one of a number of conditions known as differences in sex development, or DSDs, which cause naturally high testosterone that is in the typical male range.

Semenya says her elevated testosterone should simply be considered a genetic gift.

There are no testosterone limits in place for male athletes.

The Swiss government was ordered to pay Semenya 60,000 euros ($66,000) for costs and expenses.

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