Olympic Champion Caster Semenya Loses Battle Against IAAF Testosterone Rules

The South African runner will have to take medication to curb her testosterone levels to compete in certain events.

Caster Semenya of Team Africa celebrates victory following the Womens 800 Metres.
Lukas Schulze / Getty Images

The South African runner will have to take medication to curb her testosterone levels to compete in certain events.

Olympic champion Caster Semenya just lost her appeal against testosterone rules in female runners. According to the New Haven Register, she was battling against International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) rules that govern high testosterone in female runners like herself and require them to take medication to decrease their levels to compete in certain events.

The 28-year-old South African runner lost Wednesday in a landmark 2-1 ruling by the highest court in the world of sports. Although the court acknowledged that the IAAF rules are discriminatory, they also said that “such discrimination is a necessary, reasonable and proportionate means” of “preserving the integrity of female athletics.”

The IAAF argues that athletes like Semenya who have unusually high levels of testosterone, the primary male sex hormone, are subject to “intersex” conditions in their body that break from the standard definitions of male and female and give them an unfair competitive advantage.

But Semenya claims that the ruling — as well as others who doubt her accomplishments — has left her undeterred.

“I know 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. The decision of the CAS will not hold me back. I will once again rise above and continue to inspire young women and athletes in South Africa and around the world.”

Testosterone is responsible for strengthening bone mass and muscle tone, which is why athletes are prohibited from injecting or swallowing testosterone supplements. And since some women have hyperandrogenism, a condition that causes unusually high levels of natural testosterone, the IAAF requires all female athletes to keep their levels of the hormone at levels below five nanomoles per liter of blood.

But the South African Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee criticized the recent ruling against Semenya and said that the IAAF “rules are ill-thought and will be a source of distress for the targeted female athletes.”

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Natalie du Toit, head of the organization’s athletes commission, believes that the decision signifies a turning point that defines what it means to be a female athlete. She added that the committee supports Semenya and respects the work that she puts into the sport.

Along with Indian sprinter Dutee Chand, Semenya was publicly identified at the 2016 Rio Olympics as a woman with high testosterone. But some athletes implied that other runners also had elevated levels.

Nataliia Lupu of Ukraine, who ran against Semenya, believes that there should be separate events for women with high levels of testosterone.