Caster Semenya continues court fight to race without lowering testosterone levels

By Paul Myers - RFI

Double Olympic champion Caster Semenya arrived at the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in Strasbourg on Wednesday for a hearing to decide whether she will have to lower her testosterone levels in order to compete in races.

The 33-year-old South African has not featured on the track for more than a year.

Last July, a seven-member ECHR panel ruled that the Lausanne-based Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) had discriminated against her when it decided in 2019 that fair competition was a cardinal principle of sport.

It said that female athletes like Semenya who had testosterone levels comparable to those of men gave them an insurmountable advantage. The decision was validated by the Swiss Federal Court in Lausanne in 2020.

But after Semenya's victory last summer, Swiss authorities, supported by track and field's governing body World Athletics, appealed to the ECHR's 17-member Grand Chamber.

Its ruling is not expected for several months but will be binding. 

"This is an important day in my journey as a human being and athlete. It has been a long time coming," said Semenya, who was the Olympic 800m champion in 2012 and 2016 and world champion in 2009, 2011 and 2017.

"In 2009 I stood atop the podium at the Berlin world championships having just been sex tested and knowing that the world was judging my body and questioning my sex. In the 15 years since then I have persevered with dignity in the face of oppression.

"The adversity I have overcome has helped shaped me into a true champion and a compassionate mother, wife, sister, and daughter.

"I hope that the court's decision will pave the way for all athletes' human rights to be fiercely protected, for once and for all, and inspire all young women to be and accept themselves in all their diversity."

Semenya, who is classed as having differences in sexual development (DSD), has always been legally identified as female.

She has refused to take drugs to reduce her testosterone levels since World Athletics introduced its original rules in 2018.

'Forced into illusion of choice'
Semenya's lawyer, Schona Jolly, said her client had lost years of her career awaiting a final determination.

"What this court says will impact profoundly on her personal and professional life, and indeed, the lives and dignity of many other international sports women."

"Miss Semenya has been forced into illusion of choice, either to safeguard her personal integrity and dignity, and yet be excluded from competing as an elite athlete in the exercise of her profession, or as a healthy woman and athlete to undergo a harmful, unnecessary and supposedly corrective medical treatment.

 "Miss Semenya is a woman," Jolly added. "She was assigned the female sex on birth, legally and factually. She has always lived as the woman she is."

 Last year, World Athletics altered its rules. DSD athletes like Semenya now have to reduce their amount of blood testosterone to below 2.5 nanomoles per litre, down from the previous level of five, and remain below this threshold for two years.

World Athletics also removed the principle of restricted events for DSD athletes, meaning that they are barred from all distances unless they meet the testosterone criteria.

 (With newswires)