Semenya's Decade-Long Legal Battle Reaches Final Stage at European Court

Caster Semenya takes her decade-long legal battle against World Athletics' testosterone rules to the European Court of Human Rights. A ruling is expected in several months, following Semenya's refusal to take drugs to reduce her naturally high testosterone levels.

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Semenya's Decade-Long Legal Battle Reaches Final Stage at European Court

Semenya's Decade-Long Legal Battle Reaches Final Stage at European Court

Caster Semenya, the 33-year-old double Olympic champion from South Africa, is taking her decade-long legal battle against World Athletics' testosterone rules to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in Strasbourg, France on Wednesday. The ECHR's highest chamber, the Grand Chamber, will hear Semenya's case, with a ruling expected in several months that will be binding and not open to appeal.

Semenya has refused to take drugs to reduce her naturally high testosterone levels since World Athletics introduced its original rules in 2018, citing discrimination and violation of her privacy. In 2019, the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) ruled against Semenya, and the decision was validated by the Swiss Federal Court in Lausanne in 2020.

Why this matters: The outcome of Semenya's case will have far-reaching implications for athletes with differences in sexual development (DSD) and the sports organizations that govern their competitions. A ruling in Semenya's favor could challenge the existing gender classification policies in sports, potentially paving the way for more inclusive and equitable competition rules.

Last July, a seven-member ECHR panel ruled in favor of Semenya, stating that the Swiss court's decision constituted discrimination and a violation of her privacy. "My hope is that World Athletics, and indeed all sports organisations, will take account of the ECHR's decision and ensure that the dignity and human rights of athletes are respected," Semenya said in a statement.

Semenya, who was born with differences in sexual development (DSD), has been barred from competing at her favored 800m distance and was forced to move up to 5,000m, which World Athletics opted not to include in its rule. The legal battle has cost Semenya around 30 million rand ($1.5 million) in fees for experts and lawyers. "We lack funds. We have a lot of experts that come in that we need to pay," Semenya said.

World Athletics altered its rules last year, requiring DSD athletes like Semenya to reduce their blood testosterone levels to below 2.5 nanomoles per litre and remain below this threshold for two years. The new rules also removed the principle of restricted events for DSD athletes, meaning they are barred from all distances unless they meet the testosterone criteria.

Semenya dominated the 800m event between 2009 and 2019, winning two Olympic golds and three world titles. Her rapid rise to fame was accompanied by scrutiny over her gender and possible biological advantages. It was later revealed that Semenya has 46 XY chromosomes and 5-alpha reductase deficiency (5 ARD), a DSD condition that results in elevated testosterone levels comparable to the male 46 XY population.

The outcome of Semenya's case at the ECHR will have significant implications for athletes with DSD and the sports organizations that govern their competitions. "We all know what this case is all about, it is about the differences in women's body. And the main goal is to make sure that we protect...these young kids so they can be able to compete," Semenya said. As the legal battle reaches its final stage, the world awaits the ECHR's landmark ruling on this complex and controversial issue.

Key Takeaways

  • Caster Semenya takes her case against World Athletics' testosterone rules to the European Court of Human Rights.
  • Semenya refuses to take drugs to reduce her naturally high testosterone levels, citing discrimination and privacy violation.
  • The case's outcome will impact athletes with differences in sexual development (DSD) and sports organizations' gender classification policies.
  • A ruling in Semenya's favor could lead to more inclusive and equitable competition rules.
  • The ECHR's decision is expected in several months and will be binding and not open to appeal.