Caster Semenya’s future as an elite middle-distance runner has been placed in doubt after a contentious debate off the track was reignited on Wednesday.
The International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) was expected to implement its amended hyperandrogenism rule on Thursday, according to foreign media reports, which would force certain athletes born with the condition to reduce their natural testosterone levels.
The IAAF revealed last month it would introduce an adjusted version of the suspended rule before the end of the year, but it would apply only to women competing over distances ranging from 400m to the mile (1.609km).
“Following some further drafting, the regulations will be communicated to CAS (Court of Arbitration for Sport) before being released,” the IAAF said at the time.
While the CAS had not yet confirmed whether it had given the IAAF decision a final stamp of approval, the revised rule would bring an end to the case filed by Indian sprinter Dutee Chand, who would be cleared to compete in the 100m and 200m events after she took legal action against the global athletics body in 2015.
The amended rule could, however, affect middle-distance runners who were believed to be hyperandrogenic, including Semenya, Kenyan athlete Margaret Wambui and Francine Niyonsaba of Burundi, who swept the podium in the 800m event at the 2016 Rio Olympics.
The IAAF had been widely accused by critics in recent weeks of victimising Semenya in particular with the imminent application of the new rule, as she excelled at the entire range of distances that were affected.
Though the athletics body had controversially opted not to apply the rule to strength-based disciplines such as the shot put and hammer throw, IAAF president Sebastian Coe said recently that a line had to be drawn in order to separate men’s and women’s divisions in competition.
“This is about our responsibility as a sport federation to ensure a level playing field,” Coe said.
Having struggled to find her best form between 2011 and 2015, with her natural testosterone levels apparently being suppressed by medication after she was subjected to gender tests in 2009, Semenya rocketed back into shape when the IAAF’s hyperandrogenism rule was provisionally suspended by the CAS three years ago.
She went on to win the Olympic 800m title in 2016 and the world title last year.
Should the IAAF rule be applied today, Semenya would be forced either to take medication to limit her body’s hormone production or step up in distance to the 5 000m event in order to sidestep the rule.
Semenya is a double Olympic champion in the women’s 800m, and recently completed a double-gold haul at the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games with victories in the 800m and 1500m.
The IAAF will be seeking to ‘level the playing fields’ in the events Semenya competes.
“This is not about cheating. No hyperandrogenic athlete has cheated,” IAAF president Sebastian Coe said before making his “level playing field” comment.