Caster Semenya’s running future will be decided by three judges starting next week in a landmark case that will challenge science and gender politics.
The twice Olympic 800 metres champion from South Africa is looking to overturn eligibility rules for hyperandrogenic athletes proposed by athletics’ world governing body.
The International Association of Athletics Federations wants to require women with naturally elevated testosterone to lower their levels by medication before being allowed to compete in world-class races from 400 metres to one mile.
Semenya “looks forward to responding to the IAAF at the upcoming hearing,” her lawyers in Johannesburg, Norton Rose Fulbright, said in a statement yesterday.
“She asks that she be respected and treated as any other athlete: her genetic gift should be celebrated, not discriminated against.”
A scheduled five-day appeal case starting on Monday is among the longest ever heard by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS).
The verdict, expected next month, could also be among the most ethically controversial in the sports court’s 35-year history.
The panel of three CAS judges could decide based only on science: can the IAAF prove women with differences of sexual development get a significant performance advantage from male levels of testosterone?
The IAAF insists no woman is being reclassified as male, and it “makes no judgment about gender or sexual identity.”
IAAF president Sebastian Coe said last year: “[The rules] are about levelling the playing field to ensure fair and meaningful competition in the sport of athletics where success is determined by talent, dedication and hard work rather than other contributing factors.”
Still, Semenya’s case has been championed by United Nations human rights experts and women’s sport activists, led by Billie Jean King, who see potential abuse and discrimination in the IAAF’s proposal.
As for the science, lawyers for Semenya will call expert witnesses from the United States and her native South Africa to discredit the governing body’s research. The evidence could help deliver a second loss for the IAAF at CAS on an issue that has flared for a decade and cast a shadow on Semenya’s career.