Two-time Olympic champion Caster Semenya filed a legal challenge Wednesday in a Swiss court to block a ruling made this month that required the South African middle distance runner to artificially lower the testosterone level in her bloodstream to compete in certain women’s events. Her appeal, her lawyers said in a news release, “focuses on fundamental human rights.”
New rules from the International Association of Athletics Federations mandate that Semenya and other women whose natural testosterone levels exceed 5 nmol/L must lower the levels beneath that threshold and maintain it continuously for at least six months before a competition. The IAAF maintains that increased natural testosterone levels give competitors an unfair advantage. The Court of Arbitration for Sport, based in Switzerland, issued a 2-1 decision May 1 upholding the IAAF’s rule.
“Such discrimination is a necessary, reasonable and proportionate means of achieving the IAAF’s aim of preserving the integrity of female athletics,” the CAS declared in its decision.
Athletics South Africa vowed to appeal the ruling to the Swiss judiciary, calling the ruling an “outcome inconceivable on the fact.”
Now Semenya, 28, has done the same, asking the Swiss Federal Tribunal, Switzerland’s supreme court, to overturn the CAS decision on the basis of civil rights. Semenya is believed to have an intersex condition that causes her body to naturally produce testosterone at levels much higher than most women.
“I am a woman and I am a world-class athlete. The IAAF will not drug me or stop me from being who I am,” Semenya said in a news release Wednesday.
“The IAAF regulations violate the most fundamental principles of Swiss public policy. In the race for justice, human rights must win over sporting interests,” added her attorney, Dorothee Schramm.
The Swiss court can choose whether to take up the two challenges together or separately. They are filed only as written complaints, though a judge can request a public deliberation in which the five- or six-member panel will openly debate the case and issue a ruling.
Attorneys expect a decision as soon as this fall, but the case could stretch into 2020, depending on the court’s schedule.
Semenya won gold medals in the 800 meters at the 2012 Games in London and 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro. She said she plans to continue to race competitively without submitting to hormone testing, forcing her to compete in longer events exempt from the CAS decision.
She is scheduled to run the 3,000 meters in the Prefontaine Classic on June 30 at Stanford University.
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