Athletics South Africa (ASA) is “reeling in shock” after Caster Semenya lost a bid to challenge IAAF rules forcing female athletes to regulate their testosterone levels.
In a landmark ruling, the Court of Arbitration for Sport upheld the IAAF regulations which require women like Semenya, with higher than average natural female testosterone levels, to take medically-prescribed drugs to lower their testosterone levels or be kicked out of competitions.
In a 2-1 decision, CAS judges dismissed Semenya’s appeal against measures imposed by the IAAF targeting “hyperandrogenic” athletes – or those with “differences of sexual development” (DSD).
Shockingly, the judges said that although the rules are “discriminatory…such discrimination is a necessary, reasonable and proportionate means of achieving the IAAF’s aim of preserving the integrity of female athletics in the Restricted Events.”
ASA said it was “deeply disappointed and profoundly shocked” that the Court had ruled in favour of the new regulations, and that it would consider appealing the “disgraceful” decision.
“We are … reeling in shock at how a body held in high esteem like CAS can endorse discrimination without flinching,” they said.
“South Africa knows discrimination better and CAS has seen it fit to open the wounds of apartheid, a system of discrimination condemned by the whole world as a crime against humanity.”
Government ministers also slammed the decision.
“We are bitterly disappointed,” said Bathabile Dlamini, the minister for women.
“This is a disappointing judgement, it actually removes Caster Semenya’s agency as person, as an athlete, as a person who trains hard.
“As the department of women we are particularly angered (that) we are expected to conform to western notions … for our athletes to compete”.
She said Semenya was being targeted because “she is so successful through her hard training and her dedication”.
“It’s a violation of her rights as a woman, the violation of her rights as human being”.
Sports Minister Tokozile Xasa said the “regulations trample on the human rights and dignity” of the 28 year-old who was named one of Time Magazine’s 100 most influential people of 2019.
The ruling African National Congress (ANC) said it was “appalled” by the court decision.
“It is rather disheartening to learn that the Court has ruled against Caster Semenya in her fight to be treated equally and without prejudice,” it said in a statement.
It accused the IAAF of “acting in a prejudicial manner that divides rather than unites athletes.”
“Shocked” by the decision, the main opposition Democratic Alliance party called on the government and sporting federations to “use all available processes to oppose this decision and fight for her right to compete on the international stage without having to take any drugs to suppress what she was naturally born to do”.
Semenya, who has dominated the 800m over the last decade and had remained largely silent through the court battle, on Wednesday vowed in a statement that the court decision “will not hold me back”.
She said she knew “that the IAAF’s regulations have always targeted me specifically. For a decade the IAAF has tried to slow me down, but this has actually made me stronger”.
“I will once again rise above and continue to inspire young women and athletes in South Africa and around the world.”
On social media her fans were furious.
From Cape Town, one tweeted that the decision was “beyond outrageous”, adding “I thought sport was about not putting hormones in your body”.
A Pretoria-based fan wrote the CAS decision smacked “of racism, sexism and bigotry rolled into one”.
I am disappointed by today’s decision by the Court of Arbitration for Sports, which will prevent Caster Semenya from competing as her authentic self. @caster800m, I stand with you. https://t.co/q7CysHYl5E
— Billie Jean King (@BillieJeanKing) May 1, 2019
Reaction on the Caster Semenya appeal decision from tennis pro @Martina's website:
"The verdict against Semenya is dreadfully unfair to her and wrong in principle. She has done nothing wrong and it is awful that she will now have to take drugs to be able to compete." 1/2 pic.twitter.com/80KhY1evgl
— BBC News Africa (@BBCAfrica) May 1, 2019
Sports now have the license to shame certain women for their bodies and bar them from competition. Awful.
This is not how women's sports are supposed to work.
— Cyd Zeigler (@CydZeigler) May 1, 2019
I'm aghast by the Semenya judgement. How can sports authorities possibly justify interfering with someone on that intensely personal level? It seems completely outrageous.
— Ian Dunt (@IanDunt) May 1, 2019
Testosterone does not exist in men alone. Oestrogen does not exist in women alone. To gender these hormones to fit into neat and tidy binary boxes is ridiculous to begin with.
Caster Semenya does not deserve this.
— Katsuki Bakugo 🧨 (@zillaansa) May 1, 2019
so Michael Phelps, a man with natural physical advantages over his rivals, is celebrated as a "biomechanical freak of nature", but when it comes to Caster Semenya "discrimination is necessary" 🤔 https://t.co/LqfJWo1bMy https://t.co/R1JTay3HzS
— Alex Macpherson (@alex_macpherson) May 1, 2019
it makes no sense that the people who believe in "biological sex" are saying that Caster Semenya has to take drugs to achieve appropriate testosterone levels for women
if the gender binary is biological, why are we altering women's biological hormone production to fit into it?
— she/her (@obaa_boni) May 1, 2019
This is significant.
We don’t put restrictions on height, aerobic capacity, metabolism or other physical variations between Olympic athletes. Why is testosterone the biological feature we measure and police? https://t.co/IoTV9zI5dA
— Sally Rugg (@sallyrugg) May 1, 2019
Michael Phelps’ biological quirks (including producing 50% lactic less acid) saw him revered as a champion while Caster Semenya’s see her labelled a freak & she’ll have to take performance decreasing drugs. Something doesn’t feel right… pic.twitter.com/4JOkCbOUMY
— Simon London (@slondonuk) May 1, 2019
Semenya’s testosterone levels are not publicly known, but she is unlikely to be the only athlete affected by rules compelling female runners in certain categories to cap their testosterone levels at five nanomoles per litre (nmol/L) of blood.
The two athletes who finished behind her in the Rio Olympics 800m, Francine Niyonsaba of Burundi and Kenya’s Margaret Wambui, have also faced questions about their testosterone levels.
Semenya is weighing an appeal, her statement said.
Such a challenge needs to be filed at the Swiss Federal Tribunal within 30 days.