Caster Semenya hypoandrogenism CAS ruling: All you need to know

"Sometimes it's better to react with no reaction," said the South African athlete after the Court of Arbitration for Sport ruled dismissed her appeal over IAAF's testosterone regulations. Who is she though and what is her struggle all about? We have the answers.

Published : May 01, 2019 17:40 IST

Caster Semenya (Getty Images)
Caster Semenya (Getty Images)

Caster Semenya (Getty Images)

Caster Semenya is a 28-year-old South African middle-distance runner who specialises in the 800m, in which she has won the gold medal at the 2012 and 2016 Olympics as well as the 2009, 2011 and 2017 World Championships. She’s also competed in the 400m, 400m relay and 1,500m, and has won gold at the World Championships, the African Championships and the Commonwealth Games in these events.

Questions about her sex

At the 2009 African Junior Championships, Semenya won the 800m with a world-leading time and improved on her previous best by four seconds, while also winning the 1,500m. At the World Championships later that year, the South African the 800m gold with the fastest time of the year, which raised questions about her sex. The International Association of Athletics Federations asked her to undergo a sex verification test. After confirming its request for the test, the IAAF reasoned that it was a desire to determine whether she had a “rare medical condition” that gave her an “unfair advantage.”

READ |Caster Semenya loses case against IAAF over testosterone levels

Does she gain an advantage?

Semenya is hyperandrogenous, i.e. her body produces greater amounts of testosterone than most women. Testosterone, the main male sex hormones, is what gives men an advantage in strength, speed and size over women, and the IAAF has in place rules against athletes boosting their testosterone levels through anabolic steroids. Critics say Semenya’s hyperandrogenism gives her an unfair advantage on the track.

What does the IAAF want?

The IAAF wants to require women with naturally elevated testosterone to lower their levels with medication before being allowed to compete in world-class races from 400m to one mile. In its case before the Court of Arbitration for Sport, the governing body made a scientific argument that female runners with high testosterone levels have an unfair advantage in those events.


The Dutee Chand case

In 2015, India’s Dutee Chand, who runs the 100m and 200m, won her challenge against the rules limiting testosterone levels before the Court of Arbitration for Sport, which allowed intersex athletes to compete in events up to 400m without restrictions.

READ |Relief for Dutee, IAAF’s new ‘gender’ policy will not cover her

New IAAF regulations in 2018

The IAAF in April 2018 issued its new Eligibility Regulations for Female Classification (Athlete with Differences of Sexual Development) for events from 400m to the mile. These require any athlete who has a Difference of Sexual Development (DSD) to reduce and maintain her blood testosterone level to below five nanomolecule per litre.

“Most females (including elite female athletes) have low levels of testosterone circulating naturally in their bodies (0.12 to 1.79 nmol/L in blood); while after puberty the normal male range is much higher (7.7 – 29.4 nmol/L). No female would have serum levels of natural testosterone at 5 nmol/L or above unless they have DSD or a tumour. Individuals with DSDs can have very high levels of natural testosterone, extending into and even beyond the normal male range,” the IAAF said in a statement at that time.

What does Semenya want?

In February, Semenya said she was “unquestionably a woman.” “Ms Semenya is unquestionably a woman. She is a heroine and an inspiration to many around the world,” her lawyers said in a statement. “She asks that she be respected and treated as any other athlete.”

Who is supporting her?

Athlete Ally and the Women’s Sports Foundation have strongly supported Semenya. More than 60 well-known athletes, including tennis legend and WSF founder Billie Jean King, signed an open letter from these two organisations calling on the IAAF to rescind a discriminatory regulation that would force women to alter their bodies in order to compete in a sport they’ve dedicated their lives to.

The letter argued that discrimination against Semenya undermines the spirit of sport and violates the fourth fundamental principle of the Olympic Charter, to which the IAAF adheres: “The practice of sport is a human right. Every individual must have the possibility of practising sport, without discrimination of any kind and in the Olympic spirit, which requires mutual understanding with a spirit of friendship, solidarity and fair play.”

Tennis legend Martina Navratilova, in a  Sunday Times  column, supported Semenya, writing, “Can it be right to order athletes to take medication? What if the long-term effects proved harmful?”

What the CAS ruling means?

The five nanomolecule per litre limit of testosterone stands. However, the CAS panel suggested the IAAF consider deferring the application of the DSD regulations to the 1,500m and one mile events until more evidence is available. This could give Semenya a route to compete at the World Championships without taking medication. She was the bronze medallist in the 1,500m at the 2017 worlds in London.


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