Like all other female 800-metre runners, the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) are going to lose to South Africa’s Caster Semenya. The Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) will hear Semenya’s case, refer to it as human rights issue and will move to have her return to the sport as is. This decision will further cement the issue in favour of the athlete with hyperandrogenism.
Semenya is set to challenge a female classification rule that is newly re-imposed on her by the IAAF at the CAS.
The double Olympic and triple world 800-metre gold-medallist is again required to take medication to lower her high levels of naturally-produced testosterone, which the IAAF calls an unfair advantage.
The IAAF’s concern in 2016 was all about what to do with her for the Rio Olympics. She self-identifies and chooses to compete as a woman while living with a condition called hyperandrogenism.
Semenya is intersex. Non-official medical records indicate that she produces a significantly higher concentration of testosterone over most other women. Meanwhile the governing body of track, according to the CAS, did not adequately prove that endogenously (naturally occurring) elevated testosterone is a performance enhancer.
They apparently failed to do so during their defence against the case of Indian sprinter Dutee Chand, who appealed their ruling that women with hyperandrogenism must take testosterone-limiting medication.
Although it would be ridiculous so suggest that Semenya is at fault for her condition, hyperandrogenism likely gives her an overwhelmingly unfair advantage over the athletes that she competes against. Currently, there is not enough research on the subject to prove how much she benefits, if at all.
However, she is the 2012 London Olympic silver medallist and the 2016 Rio Olympic gold medallist. Some have argued that she appeared to breeze to her Rio win and has yet to go all-out in competition.
While Semenya’s sex verification test results that the IAAF ordered up in 2009 were not officially released, some information was leaked.
According to the leaked test, Semenya has internal testes, no ovaries or womb and endogenously produces at least three times the testosterone in comparison to the average woman, 99 times out of 100.
Semenya stormed onto the track scene in 2009. In just one year, she dropped her bests from 2:04.23 to 1:55.45 as a teenager, an unheard of performance improvement, which prompted the IAAF to put her through a sex verification test. Tactless as it was at the time, it revealed Semenya’s unfair advantage. She was subsequently ordered to take testosterone-limiting medication.
During the time that she was receiving the testosterone-controlling protocol, her performances plummeted. From 2009 to 2016 she ran annual seasonal bests at well under 2:00. Except during 2014, where she could manage just 2:02.66; a big drop in performance.
In 2015, the CAS ruled that the IAAF did not adequately prove that elevated testosterone in hyperandrogenous women is a performance enhancer. So they subsequently overturned the IAAF’s requirement to have her T-levels governed through medication. They also called it a human rights violation at that time and will again, this year.
In 2014, when the CAS overturned the IAAF’s policy, the governor was lifted and Semenya was back to near world record form.
Semenya was once again dominant in 2016. She easily ran her personal best (and again the fastest time of the year in the world) of 1:55.28.
But by doing so, Semenya demonstrated anecdotally that elevated T-levels are indeed a performance enhancer. Science has proven – long before the CAS ruling – that elevated levels of testosterone in women can provide an increase in performance. This is why the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) has banned the use of testosterone, and surely it is impossible for the CAS to now deny it is not clearly a performance enhancer, but it is still a human rights issue.
The only way that women (the vast majority) can elevate their testosterone to the levels of hyperandrogenous women is to take performance enhancing drugs. In other words they would have to cheat.
The issue is very complex. For the IAAF to go about creating a so-called even playing field using the same tactics that failed the first time, will not change the core issue: her human rights. There will now be two cases bearing the same result, further setting a precedent, which will result in it being even more difficult to fight hyperandrogenism in the future.
Semenya will soon be free to run unencumbered for the rest of her career, fair or unfair as that may be.