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Olympic champion Caster Semenya wins human rights court appeal over athletics testosterone rules

Double Olympic champion Caster Semenya has won a human rights court appeal over the rules governing testosterone in female athletes in competitions.

The European Court of Human Rights ruled the South African 800m gold medallist had been discriminated against.

Semenya, 32, has a medical condition known as hyperandrogenism, which is characterised by higher than usual levels of testosterone, a hormone that increases muscle mass, strength and haemoglobin, which affects endurance.

Under the rules, in order to compete in women’s events, athletes with differences in sexual development (DSDs) that result in high testosterone levels must lower them to those of “a healthy woman with ovaries”.


They may take the contraceptive pill, have a monthly injection or undergo surgery to remove testes.

The decision could force sport’s highest court to re-examine the regulations that force Semenya and other female athletes to artificially reduce naturally high testosterone levels in order to compete at top competitions such as the Olympics and world championships.

Pic: AP

The court also ruled the runner was not allowed an “effective remedy” when the Court of Arbitration for Sport and Switzerland’s supreme court denied her two previous appeals against the rules.

Tuesday’s ruling, although significant and a victory for Semenya, only opened the way for the Swiss supreme court to reconsider its decision.

That might result in the case going back to the Court of Arbitration for Sport in Lausanne. Only then might the rules enforced by world track body World Athletics be possibly removed.

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Semenya was the 2012 and 2016 Olympic champion in the 800m but has been barred from running in that event since 2019 by the testosterone rules and did not defend her title at the Tokyo Olympics.

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May 2019: Semenya ruling divides sport world

World Athletics said it stood by its rules.

It said: “We remain of the view that the DSD 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.”

The Court of Arbitration for Sport ruled in 2019 that the global governing body’s rules were necessary for fair female competition.

At the time, Semenya said the rules were discriminatory, and contraceptive pills made her feel “constantly sick”.


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