Track officials vow to fight to keep controversial testosterone rule for women

Caster Semenya
South Africa’s Caster Semenya celebrates after winning the women’s 800-meter race during the World Athletics Championships on Aug. 13, 2017, in London.
(David J. Phillip / Associated Press)

The international track federation has vowed it will “continue to fight” for a rule that would force some female athletes to take hormone-altering medication if they want to continue racing.

A Swiss court temporarily suspended the rule earlier this week in response to an appeal by South African runner Caster Semenya.

On Tuesday, the International Assn. of Athletics Federations said it would seek “a swift reversion” of the court’s decision, characterizing the rule as “a necessary, reasonable and proportionate means of protecting fair and meaningful competition in elite female athletics.”

The IAAF wants to regulate the participation of Semenya and other female athletes who have “differences of sexual development,” or DSD, meaning they have naturally occurring testosterone levels beyond the normal female range.


Track officials estimate this condition exists in about seven of every 1,000 elite female runners.

The federation claims that, because testosterone stimulates muscle mass and strength, DSD represents an unfair advantage. Athletes who test at elevated levels would face a choice: Take medication to lower their levels or compete against men.

The rule would apply to events ranging from the 400 meters to the mile.

Semenya, a two-time Olympic gold medalist at 800 meters, first challenged the standard in an appeal with the Court of Arbitration for Sport, which ruled against her. She then turned to the Federal Supreme Court of Switzerland.


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The IAAF has faced criticism from the United Nations and the South African government, among others, for attempting to define female athletes by body chemistry.

The association said Tuesday it remains “convinced there are some contexts, sport being one of them, where biology has to trump identity.”

The Swiss court’s ex parte order applies only to Semenya, the IAAF said. Track officials have until June 25 to respond.

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