Caster Semenya loses appeal to have testosterone rules overturned

South Africa's Caster Semenya looks down against a blue sky.
South Africa's Caster Semenya will not be able to defend her Olympic title unless she takes hormone suppressants. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

Caster Semenya’s fight against track and field’s rules to limit naturally high testosterone levels of women runners came to a close on Tuesday. The judges in Switzerland’s supreme court dismissed her appeal of the Court of Arbitration for Sport, a ruling that upheld the regulations of the sport’s governing body, per the Associated Press.

Semenya will now be unable to defend her 800-meter title at the rescheduled Tokyo Olympics next summer.

Court dismisses Semenya’s appeal

The Swiss Federal Tribunal ruled that the Court of Arbitration for Sport could continue requiring female runners to take hormone suppressants so that their naturally elevated testosterone levels were within a certain limit.

Via the Associated Press:

The Swiss Federal Tribunal said CAS “had the right to uphold the conditions of participation issued for female athletes with the genetic variant ‘46 XY DSD’ in order to guarantee fair competition for certain running disciplines in female athletics.”

Per the AP, the court said it could only examine the case based on “whether the CAS decision violates fundamental and widely recognized principles of public order. That is not the case.”

Semenya, 29, made the appeal in the spring of 2019 after the CAS ruled her body produces too much testosterone to compete with women.

Semenya calls out ruling as ‘wrong side of history’

Semenya released a statement through her lawyers at Norton Rose Fulbright saying she will “continue to fight for the human rights of female athletes.”

“I am very disappointed by this ruling, but refuse to let World Athletics drug me or stop me from being who I am. Excluding female athletes or endangering our health solely because of our natural abilities puts World Athletics on the wrong side of history. I will continue to fight for the human rights of female athletes, both on the track and off the track, until we can all run free the way we were born. I know what is right and will do all I can to protect basic human rights, for young girls everywhere.”

Dorothee Schramm, a partner with Sidley Austin LLP, led Caster’s appeal and also released a statement:

“This decision is a call to action — as a society, we cannot allow a sports federation to override the most fundamental of human rights.”

Semenya unable to defend 800m title

Semenya is a South African middle-distance runner with two Olympic titles (2012, 2016) in the 800m and three World Championships in the event. The debate over natural testosterone, hormone suppressants and the impact of all on female runners has been going on since 2009, when Semenya won the World Championships at 18 years old.

She will now no longer be able to defend her title at the Tokyo Olympics unless she lowers her testosterone levels. The ruling applies to events from the 400M to the mile. It does not include the 1,500-meter event. The Olympics were rescheduled to July 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Over the past few years Caster has repeatedly said she won’t take suppressants and reiterated that through her lawyers on Tuesday. The ruling effectively puts an end to her illustrious career on the track.

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