Caster Semenya, the South African Olympic champion runner, has appealed to the European Court of Human Rights to end “discriminatory” testosterone limits imposed on female athletes.
Semenya is hyperandrogenous — meaning she has naturally high levels of the male sex hormone — and is fighting against new rules introduced in 2019 by track and field’s governing body World Athletics (previously known as the IAAF) that regulate levels of the hormone in female athletes.
World Athletics said the rules were about “leveling the playing field” because, it said, testosterone “provides significant performance advantages in female athletes.”
Semenya took the 800 meters gold at the 2012 and 2016 Olympics but the rules mean she will now need to take testosterone-reducing medication in order to compete internationally over distances between 400 meters and one mile — something she has declined to do.
She is now training to qualify for the 200 meters at the postponed Tokyo Olympics, which will take place later this year.
In April 2019, Semenya lost an appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport. In September 2020, she lost an appeal made to Switzerland’s Federal Supreme Court but vowed to continue to “fight for the human rights of female athletes.”
The latest appeal, to the European Court of Human Rights, was announced Thursday in a press release from Semenya’s lawyers, Norton Rose Fulbright.
The press release calls on the court to find that, in its dismissal of Semenya’s appeal, Switzerland’s Federal Supreme Court “failed” in its obligations to uphold her human rights.
‘Demeaning and intrusive’
Sharing the announcement on Twitter, Semenya said her fight was “about taking a stand and fighting for dignity, equality and the human rights of women in sport.
“All we ask is to be able to run free as the strong and fearless women we are.”
In the press release, Norton Rose Fulbright called the World Athletics rules “discriminatory… demeaning and intrusive.”
The law firm said the regulations meant women with high testosterone were required to “undergo humiliating and invasive physical examinations” and “harmful” medical procedures.
The firm told CNN that the timeline of the application remains to be determined by the court.
In a statement, World Athletics told CNN that the rules are “lawful and legitimate” and denied that they “infringe any athlete’s human rights, including the right to dignity and the right to bodily integrity.”
“For many years World Athletics has fought for and defended equal rights and opportunities for all women and girls in our sport today and in the future.
“Throughout this long battle, World Athletics has always maintained that its regulations are lawful and legitimate, and that they represent a reasonable, necessary and proportionate means of ensuring the rights of all female athletes to participate on fair and equal terms.”