Hailed as a rare victory for ‘fair sport’ – but already under fierce attack for being politically incorrect – South African middle distance runner South Caster Semenya has lost her landmark appeal to compete at next year’s Tokyo Olympics without medication to reduce her testosterone levels.
Semenya has slammed the decision as being “on the wrong side of history” but the World Athletics bosses who have copped the brunt of criticism for taking a stand on an issue other sports didn’t want to deal with, are applauding the verdict, saying it gives all girls a chance of winning.
The overnight ruling by the Swiss Federal Tribunal (SFT) brings an end to one of the most complex and controversial cases in athletics history after the court agreed to draw a line on intersex, transgender and Difference of Sexual Development (DSD) athletes competing in women’s sport.
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The ruling means that athletes who identify as female but have testes and testosterone levels in the male range will have to take drugs to lower their levels if they want to compete in events from 400 metres to a mile.
World Athletics welcomed the decision as a victory for women in all sports.
“Throughout this long battle, World Athletics has always maintained that its regulations are lawful and legitimate, and that they represent a fair, necessary and proportionate means of ensuring the rights of all female athletes to participate on fair and equal terms,” World Athletics said.
“It has rejected the suggestion that they infringe any athlete‘s human rights, including the right to dignity and the right to bodily integrity.
“We are very pleased that the highest court in Switzerland has now joined with the highest court in sport in endorsing World Athletics‘ arguments.”
Semenya – who won gold medals in the 800m at both the London 2012 and Rio 2016 Olympics – has now lost two separate appeals against the decision by World Athletics and has exhausted her legal avenues.
She says the decision infringes on her human rights and has vowed to fight on.
“I am very disappointed by this ruling, but refuse to let World Athletics drug me or stop me from being who I am,” she said.
“Excluding female athletes or endangering our health solely because of our natural abilities puts World Athletics on the wrong side of history.
“I will continue to fight for the human rights of female athletes, both on the track and off the track, until we can all run free the way we were born.
“I know what is right and will do all I can to protect basic human rights, for young girls everywhere.”
No case has divided the sports world more than Semenya’s and the arguments will rage on at next year’s Tokyo Olympics, whether Semenya competes or not.
Inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement and Mack Horton’s brave protest against Sun Yang at last year’s world swimming championships, Olympic athletes are becoming increasingly vocal on social issues and issues of fairness.
Unbeatable on the track, the muscle-packed South African argued that forcing her to take medication to reduce naturally occurring testosterone levels was both racist and sexist.
She had the backing of human rights groups and women’s liberationists, including tennis legend Billie Jean King, but World Athletics boss Sebastian Coe told News Corp in an exclusive interview that the rules on general eligibility would be open to abuse if limits were not imposed.
A third of states in the U.S. allow transgender athletes to compete at high school level without limitations, leading to complaints after transgender teenagers who were born male won titles competing against girls who then missed out on getting college scholarships.
Coe also revealed that countries were actively looking for youths who have the same rare condition as Semenya, known as hyperandrogenism, in order to fast track them into athletics if the case ruling had gone the other way.
“World Athletics fully respects each individual‘s personal dignity and supports the social movement to have people accepted in society based on their chosen legal sex and/or gender identity,” World Athletics said.
“As the SFT specifically recognised, however, the DSD Regulations are not about challenging an individual’s gender identity, but rather about protecting fair competition for all female athletes.”