Two-time Olympic gold medalist Caster Semenya won an appeal to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) Tuesday against World Athletics’ rules regulating testosterone levels in elite female athletes.
In its 4–3 decision, the ECHR said that World Athletics’ rules discriminated against the 32-year-old South African runner, who was assigned female at birth and has identified as female her entire life, but whose body produces high levels of testosterone due to a condition known as differences in sex development (DSD).
World Athletics justified their ban of women with higher testosterone levels by citing a scientific study. Now the authors say it was only “exploratory.”
World Athletics, the body that regulates international track and field competitions formerly known as the IAAF, issued a rule in 2019 requiring participants in the women’s 400-meter, 800-meter, and 1500-meter races to have a low level of testosterone in their bodies and to undergo six months of hormone therapy if their natural testosterone levels are high. World Athletics expanded and made the rules stricter this year, according to the Associated Press.
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Semenya, who won the Olympic gold medal in the 800-meter race in 2012 and 2016, has speculated that the rules were made to exclude her from competition. She refused to artificially reduce her natural testosterone levels, forcing her to sit out the 2021 Tokyo Olympics.
In 2019, she lost an appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport challenging the rules. The following year, she lost a second appeal to Switzerland’s Federal Supreme Court.
“I refuse to let World Athletics drug me or stop me from being who I am,” she said in 2020.
As CNN reports, Semenya submitted a third appeal to the ECHR in February 2021, accusing the Swiss Supreme Court of failing to uphold her human rights by dismissing her 2020 appeal.
In its Tuesday ruling, the ECHR found that Semenya “had not been afforded sufficient institutional and procedural safeguards in Switzerland to allow her to have her complaints examined effectively, especially since her complaints concerned substantiated and credible claims of discrimination as a result of her increased testosterone level caused by differences of sex development (DSD).”
The ECHR ruled that due to “the high personal stakes involved for [Semenya] – namely, participating in athletics competitions at international level, and therefore practicing her profession,” her appeal to the Swiss Supreme Court “should have led to a thorough institutional and procedural review” of World Athletics’ rules.
According to the AP, the Swiss government has been ordered to pay Semenya 60,000 euros ($66,000) for costs and expenses related to her appeal.
In a statement, World Athletics said that it maintains “that the DSD [differences in sex development] regulations are a necessary, reasonable and proportionate means of protecting fair competition in the female category as the Court of Arbitration for Sport and Swiss Federal Tribunal both found, after a detailed and expert assessment of the evidence.”
Because Semenya’s most recent appeal was against Switzerland rather than World Athletics, the organization said that it would “liaise with the Swiss Government on the next steps and, given the strong dissenting views in the decision, we will be encouraging them to seek referral of the case to the ECHR Grand Chamber for a final and definitive decision.”
World Athletics added that its current DSD regulations would remain in place, forcing athletes like Semenya to choose between medicating to reduce their natural testosterone levels and not competing.