On May 1, Olympic gold medal runner Caster Semenya lost her right to compete at the international level.
In an unprecendented ruling, the Court of Arbitration for Sport (Cas) sided against the South African runner in a case that could come to define how the international athletic community determines gender in competition.
The International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) requested that Semenya take medication to artificially lower her body’s testosterone levels. The court ruled in favor of the IAAF’s rule request, which will go into effect on May 8.
That meant that Semenya’s 800-meter race in Doha, Qatar yesterday was her final race before the new regulations.
Semenya won, handily. It’s her 30th international victory at that distance.
When she won, the media asked her whether she would ever take testosterone-suppressing medication to keep racing, she responded, “Hell no,” according to The Guardian.
Why Semenya made waves in women’s sports
According to the BBC, Semenya is an athlete with “differences of sexual development (DSD).”
The British National Health Service defines DSD as a “group of rare conditions where the reproductive organs and genitals don’t develop as expected”; sometimes, individuals with DSD are called “intersex,” — a term that, according to the Intersex Society of North America, refers to a person born with “a reproductive or sexual anatomy that doesn’t seem to fit the typical definitions of female or male.”
Sometimes, DSD can lead to higher levels of testosterone, like in the case of Caster Semenya.
That testosterone discrepancy is what prompted the IAAF’s request for the court’s ruling. Apparently, the new rules dictate certain minimum testosterone levels for DSD women racing distances between 400 meters and one mile, leaving sprint athletes and long-distance runners unaffected. Unfortunately, Semenya’s preferred distance of 800 meters falls right in the middle of that range.
Critics of the ruling point to that as yet another reason why the decision seems targeted specifically at upending Semenya’s career.
“I know that the IAAF’s regulations have always targeted me specifically,” Semenya said in a statement. “For a decade the IAAF has tried to slow me down, but this has actually made me stronger.”
The court said the ruling was ‘necessary’ to ensure fair competition
“It’s deeply disappointing to hear the Cas has ruled against Caster Semenya,” Kirsty Clarke, the director of sport at Stonewall, told Business Insider.
Clarke added that the ruling set a “dangerous precedent” as it would regulate “how people — particularly women — participate in sport.”
When it announced the decision, the court agreed that the IAAF’s policy was “discriminatory” to DSD athletes like Semenya, the Guardian reported.
But the two court arbitrators (of three total) who voted in favor of the IAAF said higher testosterone levels “confers significant advantages in size, strength and power from puberty onwards”, according to the Guardian, and that the policy was “necessary, reasonable and proportionate” to ensure fair competition in women’s atheltics.
The IAAF, on the other hand, welcomed the news, and said it was “grateful” for the court’s ruling.
‘No man, or any other human, can stop me from running’
When she won her final race May 3 in Doha, Semenya said, “When you are a great champion, you always deliver. No man, or any other human, can stop me from running.”
“It’s up to God. God has decided my life, God will end my life; God has decided my career, God will end my career,” she added, according to the BBC.
It seems like the 28-year-old runner fully intends to appeal the court’s decision against her.
“How am I going to retire when I’m 28? I still feel young, energetic,” she told the BBC after the race. “I still have 10 years or more in athletics.”