Caster Semenya Wins Human Rights Case

South African runner is fighting rule requiring her to lower testostorone levels
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Jul 11, 2023 8:32 PM CDT
Caster Semenya Wins Human Rights Case
In this April 13, 2018 photo, South Africa's Caster Semenya celebrates after winning the woman's 800m final at Carrara Stadium during the 2018 Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast, Australia.   (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein, File)

Champion runner Caster Semenya won a potentially landmark legal decision for sports on Tuesday when the European Court of Human Rights decided she was discriminated against by rules in track and field that force her to medically reduce her natural hormone levels to compete in major competitions. But the two-time Olympic champion's success after her two failed appeals in sports' highest court in 2019 and the Swiss supreme court in 2020 came with a major caveat, the AP reports. The ruling 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."

While the 32-year-old Semenya is fighting to be allowed to run again without restrictions, that might still take years, if it happens at all. Tuesday's ruling, although significant and a victory for Semenya, only opened the way for the Swiss supreme court to reconsider its decision. Still, Semenya's lawyers said 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 in a statement. "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.

  • 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, and critics of the rules have compared it to a basketballer's height or a swimmer's long arms.
  • World Athletics says Semenya's testosterone levels give her an athletic advantage comparable to a man competing in women's events and rules are needed to address that.
  • While Semenya has been at the center of the highly emotive issue of sex eligibility in sports for nearly 15 years and is the issue's figurehead, she is not the only runner affected. At least three other Olympic medalists have also been impacted by the rules that set limits on the level of natural testosterone that female athletes may have.

(More Caster Semenya stories.)

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