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‘Necessary discrimination’: CAS rejects Caster Semenya’s appeal

The Court for Arbitration of Sport (CAS) has rejected Caster Semenya’s appeal to prevent the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) from implementing new testosterone regulations.

It’s a potentially devastating verdict for the double Olympic gold medal athlete who will now have to artificially reduce her testosterone levels should she wish to continue competing in her favoured events.

South Africa’s star runner approached CAS after the IAAF introduced new middle-distance regulations in April last year. The “eligibility regulations for female classification” restricted the levels of testosterone allowed in women intending to run the 400m, 800m and 1 500m.

Under such rules, athletes who have a “difference of sexual development” (DSD) would be rigorously monitored and forced to lower, and then maintain for six months, their testosterone levels to five nanomoles a litre (nmol/l).

In CAS’s press release, the court agreed that the restrictions encompassed discrimination but were “necessory”.

“The Panel found that the DSD Regulations are discriminatory but the majority of the Panel found that, 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 in the Restricted Events,” CAS anounced.

What’s next?

Semenya can appeal to the Swiss Federal Tribunal within 30 days.

The IAAF points out that the treatment to lower “unnatural” testosterone can be achieved with what it describes as a simple oral contraceptive. The exact health and psychological ramifications of that and other hormone treatments remain unclear, however.

In Semenya’s case, it is uncertain whether we would see her run the specified distances at IAAF-sanctioned events again.

She won gold in the 5 000m event at the South African Athletics Championships on Friday, leading to speculation that she is preparing to conquer distances outside the new rule’s jurisdiction.

Sports Minister Tokozile Xasa noted the judgment and said her department would look into a way forward.

“Naturally we are disappointed with the judgement, however we have directed ASA (Athletics South Africa) to request a copy of the full judgement,” she said. “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.”

Semenya can appeal to the Swiss Federal Tribunal within 30 days.

Read CAS’s media release below: 

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Luke Feltham

Luke Feltham runs the Mail & Guardian's sports desk. He was previously the online day editor.

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