'Tramples on human rights': Outrage over 'disgraceful' Caster Semenya ruling

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.”

‘Profoundly shocked’

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.”

Caster Semenya celebrates winning gold in the 1500 metres at the Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

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”.

‘Beyond outrageous’

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”.

Caster Semenya at the 2017 World Championships. (Photo by Matthias Hangst/Getty Images)

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”.

Another appeal?

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.