SA’s 800m women’s Olympic champion runner Caster Semenya says she will consider taking her fight back to court, after losing a long-running battle against the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF).
The Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) confirmed yesterday it had dismissed requests for arbitration filed by Semenya and Athletics South Africa (ASA) to have controversial new IAAF regulations targeting runners like Semenya overturned.
The new rules would force athletes with differences of sexual development (DSD) to take medication to reduce their natural testosterone levels to 5nmol/L to compete internationally over distances ranging from 400m to the mile (1.609km).
Semenya responded on social media to the ruling with a tweet which read: ‘Sometimes it’s better to react with no reaction.’
She then issued a defiant statement against the decision, saying: “I know that the IAAF’s regulations have always targeted me specifically.
“For a decade, the IAAF has tried to slow me down, but this has actually made me stronger. The decision of the CAS will not hold me back.
“I will once again rise above and continue to inspire young women and athletes in South Africa and around the world.”
“Ms Semenya is reviewing the decision with her legal team and considering whether to file an appeal,” Semenya’s lawyers said in a statement yesterday.
This shortly after CAS released a statement saying: “By the majority, the CAS panel dismissed the requests for arbitration considering that the claimants were unable to establish that the DSD regulations were ‘invalid’.
“The panel found the DSD regulations are discriminatory but the majority of the (three-member) panel found that, on the basis of the evidence, such discrimination is a necessary, reasonable and proportionate means of achieving the IAAF’s aim of preserving the integrity of female athletes in the restricted events.”
CAS added, however, that it was concerned about the practical application and implementation of the regulations, as well as the side-effects of the medication athletes were required to take, and suggested the IAAF rule not be applied to the 1,500m and mile events until more evidence was provided that DSD athletes had an unfair advantage.
The regulations would need to be continually reviewed, the court added.
Semenya called for the IAAF to commission an independent panel of experts to produce an “unbiased assessment” of the need for and methods of regulating the rules before implementing them.
“In the interim, Ms Semenya believes it is irresponsible for the IAAF to proceed with the implementation of the DSD regulations,” Semenya’s legal team said.
The IAAF said its new regulations, which had been temporarily put on hold while the CAS decision was pending, would come into effect on May 8.
“As the regulations expressly state, the IAAF will keep all practical matters of implementation under periodic review.”
Semenya and ASA, who had received support from the SA government, the SA Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee (Sascoc) and the United Nations Human Rights Council, had taken the IAAF to court last month after CAS had cleared the global athletics body’s new regulations.
Despite her defeat in court, Semenya could continue to compete without taking hormone suppressants, as the IAAF rules did not incorporate the 5,000m distance.
Should she want to defend her Olympic 800m title next year, however, she would need to abide by the new regulations.
What Sascoc says
The South African Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee (Sascoc) slammed the verdict of the Court of Arbitration in its ruling against Caster Semenya.
- “We disagree with Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) in the extreme,” said Natalie du Toit, chairperson of Sascoc’s Athletes’ Commission. “It is clear from the ruling itself that the application of these rules (in particular for the 1,500m and mile events) remains a source of concern, while the athletes’ ability to maintain strict compliance with the maximum permitted testosterone levels could well be at issue, too. We maintain that the rules are ill thought (through) and will be a source of distress for the targeted female athletes.
- “This decision marks a massive turning point as it now redefines what a female athlete, in particular, is. The question is how these regulations will be applied with equality, parity and fairness in sport. We do believe this decision will impede the talent of athletes here in South Africa and knowing Caster, we support all her endeavours.”
- The International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) statement read: “The IAAF is grateful to the Court of Arbitration for Sport for its detailed and prompt response to the challenge made to its eligibility regulations for the female classification for athletes with differences of sex development, and is pleased that the regulations were found to be a necessary, reasonable and proportionate means of achieving the IAAF’s legitimate aim of preserving the integrity of female athletics in the restricted events.”