Caster Semenya Loses Landmark Ruling On Hormone Levels

Two-time Olympic champion Caster Semenya has lost her appeal to overturn regulations by the International Association of Athletics Federations that placed limits on female athletes with naturally elevated levels of the muscle-building hormone testosterone. The South African track star and Athletics South Africa challenged the rules in the Court of Arbitration for Sport on the grounds that they were discriminatory. The court ruled that the regulations were discriminatory, but they were necessary to ensure fair competition in female athletics.

The regulations in question are focused on female athletes with testosterone levels in the range of males. According to the I.A.A.F., most women, including elite female athletes, have natural testosterone levels of 0.12 to 1.79 nanomoles per liter. The normal range for male after puberty is 7.7 to 29.4 nanomoles per liter. The I.A.A.F. argued that women who possess natural testosterone levels in the male range gain an unfair advantage in women’s events due to increases in muscle mass, strength, and oxygen-carrying capacity.

The new regulations, introduced last year, would require women with high levels of testosterone to reduce their levels to below five nanomoles per liter and maintain that reduced level for at least six months to be eligible to compete in certain track and field events in international competition. One of the events affected by the rule is the 800-meter race, an event won by Semenya at the 2012 and 2016 Olympic Games. With the court’s ruling, Semenya would have to lower her testosterone levels or be deemed ineligible to compete at the upcoming world championships in September.

In a statement, Semenya called the I.A.A.F. rule “discriminatory, irrational, unjustifiable”, and a violation of the rules of sport and human rights. Francine Niyonsaba of Burundi, who finished second to Semenya at 800 meters at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, has also called the I.A.A.F.’s proposed rules discriminatory. Niyonsaba publicly confirmed last month that she also has naturally elevated levels of testosterone.