Caster Semenya: Court to rule Wednesday in sex-testing case

South African runner Caster Semenya looks on after competing April 26 in Germiston on the outskirts of Johannesburg, South Africa.
(AFP / Getty Images)

An international court has announced it will render its much-awaited ruling in the Caster Semenya case Wednesday, determining if track officials can enforce severe restrictions on female runners who have naturally high testosterone levels.

The decision had been expected earlier this spring but was postponed while the Court of Arbitration for Sport in Lausanne, Switzerland, reviewed additional materials.

The appeal revolves around a proposed rule that would affect Semenya, a two-time Olympic gold medalist from South Africa, and other female athletes with unusual body chemistry.

The international track federation has estimated that 7 of every 1,000 elite runners have this “difference of sexual development,” or DSD. Because testosterone can trigger muscle mass and thus strength, the International Assn. of Athletics Federations believes the condition equates to an unfair advantage.


“As the international federation for our sport, we have a responsibility to ensure a level playing field,” IAAF President Sebastian Coe said.

The proposed rule would apply to races from 400 meters to the mile and would give women with DSD a stark choice: Either take medication to alter their body chemistry or race against men.

At a CAS hearing in February, Semenya’s lawyers summoned experts who argued testosterone is not a reliable measure of athletic prowess, in part because individuals react to the hormone in different ways. Athletes from around the sports world also came to the runner’s defense, saying no woman should be penalized for a naturally occurring condition.

Track has long wrestled with issues surrounding DSD. In years past, officials forced some women to prove their gender by disrobing. A chromosome test was instituted, then dropped because it did not account for rare conditions.


In 2015, CAS overturned the IAAF’s first attempt at a testosterone limit.

Wednesday’s ruling could have major implications for the world championships in Doha, Qatar, next fall and the upcoming 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo.

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