Semenya ‘made to suffer’, says Indian gender-row sprinter
CAPE TOWN: Double Olympic champion Caster Semenya will run her last 800-metres on Friday before the International Association of Athletics Federations imposes hugely controversial new rules limiting testosterone in female athletes.
Semenya, who has spent years trying to get the new IAAF regulations thrown out, will compete at the Diamond League meeting in Doha against 2016 Olympic silver medallist Francine Niyonsaba – who recently revealed she had similar difference in sexual development (DSD) characteristics to the South African.
Both must then begin taking medication to lower their testosterone levels if they wish to compete over that distance based on the new rules, which the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) said on Wednesday were necessary to ensure fair competition.
IAAF president Sebastian Coe, speaking in Doha yesterday, said he was grateful to CAS for the verdict. “It is very straightforward for any association in sport,” Coe told a media briefing. “Athletics has two classifications – it has age and it has gender. We are fiercely protective of both. We are really grateful that CAS has upheld that principle.”
Coe refused to take more questions, but the case is likely to have far-reaching consequences for women’s sport, and has split opinion around the globe. Athletics South Africa likened the new IAAF regulations to apartheid, and both it and Semenya’s lawyers have said they could contest the CAS ruling dismissing her appeal against their introduction.
Under the rules to take effect on May 8, female athletes with high natural levels of testosterone wishing to compete in events from 400-metres to a mile must medically limit that level to under 5 nmol/L, which is double the normal female range of below 2 nmol/L.
Testosterone increases muscle mass, strength and haemoglobin, which affects endurance. Some competitors have said women with higher levels of the hormone have an unfair advantage. Barring further legal action, Semenya finds herself at a crossroads: Either she submits to the regulations or looks to compete in longer distances.
She claimed the 5,000-metres title at the South African Athletics Championships last week, an event not covered by the IAAF regulations, but in a modest time of 16:05.97, well below the qualifying standard for the world championships of 15:22.00.
This potential lifeline means Semenya may not abandon the 800-metres yet, though any advance to the Swiss Federal Tribunal could take months to reach a verdict and leave her career in limbo.
Former sprinter Michael Johnson, who won four Olympic gold medals between 1992 and 2000, believes the regulations are right for women’s athletics. “It was always going to be a difficult situation because through no fault of her own she just happens to have this condition,” Johnson told Reuters.
“The IAAF has to make a decision on the line that’s drawn between the female races and the men’s races. I think the decision was based on the fairness of sports, so that there is a level playing field for all of the athletes in any given race.”
Semenya, 28, has vowed to fight on, whichever distance she races in. “I know that the IAAF’s regulations have always targeted me specifically,” she said in a statement released via her lawyers on Wednesday.
“For a decade the IAAF has tried to slow me down, but this has actually made me stronger. The decision of the CAS will not hold me back. I will once again rise above and continue to inspire young women and athletes in South Africa and around the world.”
Her personal best of 1:54.25 in the 800-metres will make her the quickest in the field in Doha’s Diamond League meet, the first time she will compete over the distance in 2019.
Meanwhile, Indian gender-row sprinter Dutee Chand yestersday said Caster Semenya’s court defeat over testosterone rules was “wrong”, but backed the Olympic 800 metres champion to overcome the potentially far-reaching ruling.
Chand, who fought and won a long battle over her own hyperandrogenism, or elevated levels of male sex hormones, said she felt sorry for the South African star, whose career has been plagued by controversy.
“This is wrong. I feel sad for her, she has been made to suffer like me,” Chand, 23, told AFP. Chand, who was subjected to humiliating gender-testing as a teenager, was finally cleared to compete last year after winning a court appeal against International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) regulations.
Chand successfully challenged the IAAF’s stance on hyperandrogenism, prompting the world governing body to change its rules to target only middle-distance events, arguing these were most affected by elevated testosterone.
But on Wednesday, the Court of Arbitration for Sport in Lausanne dismissed Semenya’s appeal against the IAAF measures, triggering an angry response in South Africa. The decision means that women with elevated testosterone will have to take suppressive treatment if they wish to compete as females in certain events.
To defend her title at the world championships in September, Semenya, 28, will now have to take medication, probably including birth control pills. She is now weighing an appeal. Chand, who won 100m and 200m silver at last year’s Asian Games, her first major event since returning to competition, was hopeful that Semenya’s legal team will find a way to succeed.
“It was my legal team that handled her case. The team that fought my case, I handed them over to Caster Semenya,” Chand said. “I think she and her team will find a way out. She is an Olympic medallist and her country is behind her.”
The CAS ruling raised several concerns about the IAAF regulations, calling them “discriminatory” and questioning their implementation, as well as the lack of evidence proving an advantage from higher testosterone levels.
“See this (the condition) is natural. To increase and decrease testosterones is not in our hand. Now medical scientists can guide her,” said Chand. “But she is not poor like me and is well known with a lot of money and resources,” said Chand, who was born in rural poverty.
The court decision drew anger from officials and fans in South Africa, whose minister for women, Bathabile Dlamini, called it “the violation of her rights as human being”.
Semenya, who won the 800m Olympic title in 2012 and 2016, vowed to “once again rise above and continue to inspire young women and athletes in South Africa and around the world”. – Agencies