Caster Semenya is a special athlete. She is one of the most titled, yet controversial, people in modern athletics. Ella caster was born with excessively high testosterone levels, giving her an advantage over other athletes. At some point, she was forbidden to compete almost directly, and since then, for many years, Semenya has been trying to defend her right to participate in tournaments on equal terms with women.
And, apparently, he managed to defend himself through the court.
Caster Semenya took a tough stance:
Semenya: I don’t want to change my body. I defend gender rights
“She is my girl”
Caster Semenya surprised everyone in 2009, when at the age of 18 she won the world championship over a distance of 800 m. The young athlete “carried” the silver medalist by as much as 2.5 seconds! This is too big a gap for such a distance. Then, the jock’s coarse facial features, tomboyish figure made the public doubt her gender.
The International Federation of World Athletics, at that time called the IAAF, launched an investigation, during which it was necessary to find out if Caster Semenya was not a man by chance. Based on the test results, it became clear that Caster is a woman with hyperandrogenism, that is, with an elevated level of male hormones. In women, the testosterone level is 0.36 to 1.72 nanomoles per liter of blood, while Semenya had around 10 nanomoles. Indicators for men range from 5.13 to 42 nanomoles per liter.
“They probably thought I had a penis. I told them, “Okay, I’m a woman, if you want to see this, I’ll show you,” Caster recalled.
“She is my little girl. I raised her and never doubted the gender of her,” Caster father Jacob Semenya said.
Photo: Patrick Smith/Getty Images
In 2011, the IAAF introduced new gender restriction rules. According to them, women could participate in competitions only if testosterone did not exceed 10 nanomoles per liter within six months before the competition. Athletes with elevated testosterone levels from birth were required to undergo hormone therapy or undergo surgery.
Caster had to use pills that lowered natural testosterone levels. He started performing less frequently, but still continued to crush everyone in international competitions. At times, Semenya lost only to Russian Maria Savinova. At the 2011 World Cup and the 2012 Olympics, the representative of South Africa became the second. But a few years after Savinova was disqualified for doping, Caster passed on the gold medals.
However, the longer Caster took the drugs, the worse his results became. And only in 2015 a happy accident helped the South African to return to his former form. Indian sprinter Duty Chand, who has never won a tournament but has hyperandrogenism, has filed a lawsuit against the IAAF in the Court of Arbitration for Sport. And, to the surprise of many, he won. The CAS ruled that the rules are suspended until the IAAF provides evidence that increasing testosterone levels is advantageous for female athletes. This opened the way to the Olympics for both Duty and Custer.
A girl from India at the Olympics didn’t even make it to the semifinals, and Semenya won another gold. That Rio 2016 final caused a lot of controversy, because on the podium were two more athletes with high testosterone levels: Francine Niyonsaba from Burundi and Margaret Wambui from Kenya.
At the 2020 Olympics, scandals were also in full swing because of the gender:
“That proves she’s a woman.” Scandalous final in athletics at the 2020 Olympics
“What fool came up with this?”
World Athletics has done research showing that high testosterone levels affect performance over distances from 400 meters to a mile. As a result, for 2019 a new rule was introduced: the upper limit of the permissible level of the male hormone was lowered from 10 to 5 nanomoles per liter.
Due to the new rules, Caster was unable to travel to the World Championships in Doha. The runner returned to hormone therapy, but the girl was very bad at it.
“I was sick, I gained weight, I had panic attacks. I was very afraid of having a heart attack,” Caster said. It’s like cutting yourself with a knife every day. But I had no choice. Since I wanted to go to the Olympics, that was the only option.”
Caster couldn’t wait that long and went to court. Although CAS has recognized that World Athletics policy is discriminatory towards athletes with hyperandrogenism, it is necessary and reasonable to maintain integrity in women’s sports. Semenya did not accept the decision of the TAS and went to the Swiss Federal Court, but she was again rejected.
A clear boundary between men’s and women’s sports:
You need to be treated! Men in skirts will not be allowed to destroy the sport.
“It turns out that in 400, 800 and 1500 meters I am a man, and in 100, 200 and 5000 meters I am a woman. What fool came up with this? – wrote Semenya on social networks.
Caster attempted to requalify for the 5000m, where racing with high testosterone levels is allowed. But he didn’t work out very well: she couldn’t qualify for Tokyo. At the same time, her Niyonsaba River podium partner successfully switched to the 5,000 and 10,000m: she managed to win the Diamond League stages and nearly made it to the podium in Tokyo.
Decision in favor of the athlete
In February 2021, Semenya filed a lawsuit with the European Court of Human Rights. While the proceedings were unfolding, World Athletics introduced new rules, even stricter than before. As of 2023, the allowed testosterone threshold is 2.5 nanomoles per liter at all distances. Additionally, athletes must maintain this level 24 months prior to competition.
On July 12, Caster won the ECtHR. The court ruled that Semenya’s initial appeal had not been properly considered.
It would seem that now the athlete has a chance to challenge WA rules and make it to the 2024 Olympics without hormone therapy. But the International Athletics Federation is in no hurry to side with the athlete.
“The lawsuit is against the State of Switzerland, not World Athletics,” WA said. “We will be in contact with the Swiss government about the next steps and, given the dissenting position, we will urge them to request the referral of the case to the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights for a final decision.”
Ahead Custer again expects years of litigation. At the same time, there are no guarantees that Semenya’s appeal will be satisfied. But even if this happens, there is almost no chance of getting to the Paris Olympics.
Women’s sport under threat due to intersex athletes:
“I did not choose to be born this way.” How intersex athletes are pushing women out of sports