The two-time 800m Olympic champion, Caster Semenya, has lost her bid at the Swiss Federal Tribunal to overturn the decision by Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), the highest court in the world for sporting matters. Which had previously upheld World Athletics’ requirement for female athletes with certain testosterone levels to be subject to hormone therapy in order to compete.

Semenya launched an appeal at the Swiss Federal Tribunal in May 2019. After CAS agreed with World Athletics’ stating there must be regulations to ensure fair competition for female athletes with ‘differences in sexual development’ (DSDs).

The Tribunal concluded that these regulations were not contrary to Swiss law or the European Convention on Human Rights, which applies to the rules and regulations World Athletics imposes on its member organisations.

Caster Semenya loses appeal

After the hearing, Caster Semenya, issued the following statement:

Im 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 run free the way we were born.”

Unsurprisingly, World Athletics welcomed the decision. They say is intended to promote fair competition and not challenge an individual’s gender identity. The full statement can be read here.

What’s this all about?

The issue, say World Athletics. Is that female athletes with higher than normal levels of testosterone in the blood, have an unfair advantage. Relative to other female athletes,

Testosterone is the primary male sex hormone and contributes to increasing muscle mass, strength and, importantly for endurance races, the amount of haemoglobin in the blood.

Semenya and other affected athletes, including the Indian sprinter, Dutee Chand, have argued that this is an effort to restrict their gender identity and that they should be allowed to race without hormone therapy, utilising the body with which they were born.

How did we get here?

The high-profile story of Caster Semenya can trace its origins back to Olympic Games in 2008. Following her victory in the 800m final, in a storming time of 1.55:45. It was subsequently revealed that she had been subject to a gender verification process. The IAAF (as it was then) confirmed that she would be ineligible to compete for a period of 11 months.

In April 2011, the IAAF declared that it was adopting a new regime for female athletes with ‘hyperandrogenism’. Which essentially means higher than normal testosterone levels. Female athletes with testosterone higher than 10nmol/L must take hormones to lower the level. The IAAF said that this was to ensure fairness of competition. Unexpectedly, it caused considerable controversy and in July 2015, CAS suspended World Athletics hormone therapy regulations.

Following Semenya’s gold medal in Rio in 2016, overshadowing her victory. Sebastian Coe stated that they would be challenging CAS’ ruling.

In April 2018, World Athletics announced a new approach. This would require female athletes to maintain their testosterone levels below a specific level in all events ranging from 400m to a mile.

Finally, in May 2019, Caster Semenya lost her legal challenge at CAS. Given her most recent defeat in the Swiss Federal Tribunal. This will mean that should she wish to race in events of between 400m to the mile. She will need to take medication to limit her testosterone.

Interestingly, she has already indicated her desire to transition to racing in the 200m.

This case is certainly like to rumble on. There is no doubt that it divides opinion across the athletics and running world.

Written by Josh Gorst