Track officials delay new rule on what constitutes a ‘female’ athlete

Caster Semenya
South Africa’s Caster Semenya celebrates after winning the gold in the 800 meters at the World Athletics Championships on Aug. 13, 2007.
(David J. Phillip / Associated Press)

The international track federation has temporarily backed off a controversial new standard that would define female athletes by their body chemistry.

The IAAF said it will delay the rule’s implement until South African runner Caster Semenya can have her challenge heard by the international Court of Arbitration for Sport.

“All athletes need this situation resolved as soon as possible,” IAAF president Sebastien Coe said in a statement Tuesday.

The proposed rule was scheduled to take effect Nov. 1. It affects athletes with a “difference of sex development,” or DSD, meaning they have a circulating level of testosterone at five nanomoles per liter or greater and are androgen-sensitive.


Such women would have to run against men or take medications to alter their chemistry.

The federation has characterized this legislation, which would apply to all races between 400 meters and a mile, as a means of keeping women with naturally high testosterone levels from holding an unfair advantage.

As the reigning Olympic champion and a force at 800 meters, Semenya has long been a lightning rod for complaints, facing gender tests as opponents have questioned her winning times.

The IAAF previously attempted to address the issue of hyperandrogenism but lost a challenge in the international court in 2015.


CAS is expected to hear Semenya’s case early next year and deliver a ruling by the end of March.

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