Semenya curbs on hold pending appeal

LAUSANNE • Caster Semenya can continue competing without using medication to lower her testosterone while her legal appeal is being considered by the Swiss Federal Supreme Court.

The runner’s legal team said on Monday that the court had temporarily suspended the International Association of Athletics Federation’s (IAAF) rule concerning gender classifications and permissible testosterone levels for female competitors.

“I am thankful to the Swiss judges for this decision,” Semenya said in a statement. “I hope that following my appeal I will once again be able to run free.”

Her Switzerland-based attorney, Dorothee Schramm, added: “The Swiss Supreme Court has granted welcome temporary protection to Caster Semenya.

“This is an important case that will have fundamental implications for the human rights of female athletes.”

Greg Nott, another attorney representing Semenya, called the decision “morally uplifting and so good for Caster”.

The decision has freed Semenya, 28, apparently at least until late June, to run her signature event, the 800m, without having to undergo hormone therapy. A full appeal could take a year or more.

With the athletics world championships in September, however, the South African’s status remains uncertain, and the IAAF rule could be back in place well before the year’s biggest competition gets under way in Qatar.

The governing body will make its case this month for the immediate implementation of the rule, and the court is expected to issue another ruling on the continued suspension of the rule.

For now, Semenya has entered the 3,000m at the Prefontaine Classic at Stanford University on June 30, and she can also run the 800m, an event in which she has been unbeaten since 2015.

Asked for a reply, the IAAF, which has until June 25 to respond to the court-ordered suspension of its testosterone rules, issued an official statement: “We have received no information from the Swiss Federal Court so we cannot comment at this stage, but we will continue to fight for what we believe is in the best interests of all female athletes in our sport.”

The suspended rule applies to athletes with disorders of sexual development who have an X and a Y chromosome in each cell, the standard male chromosomal pattern, and testosterone levels in the male range.

Athletes with disordered sexual development possess genitalia that are not typically male or female.

The IAAF has sought to limit testosterone levels for athletes competing in the designated women’s events from 400m up to a mile (1.6km) to less than 5 nmol/L, arguing that higher testosterone levels lead to an unfair advantage in muscle strength and oxygen-carrying capacity.

The Court of Arbitration for Sport has called the limits, which must be maintained for at least six months, discriminatory but necessary to achieve the organisation’s goal of providing a level playing field.

While Monday’s ruling was a setback for the IAAF, it provided encouragement for Semenya.

She and her supporters have challenged the notion that biological sex is so finite and binary, slamming the rule as “discriminatory, irrational, unjustifiable” and a violation of universally recognised human rights.

The two-time Olympic gold medallist and three-time world champion is believed to have an intersex condition that causes her body to produce higher levels of testosterone than other women.

Her best hopes of competing in the 800m in Doha could lie with the Swiss court deciding to uphold the suspension of the rule until a final decision is made on her appeal.

The reprieve granted also applies to the duo who finished behind Semenya in the 800m at the 2016 Rio Games – Kenyan Margaret Wambui and Burundi’s Francine Niyonsaba.


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