Caster Semenya appeals testosterone ruling: ‘The IAAF will not drug me’

South Africa's Caster Semenya filed an appeal of a ruling that upheld a policy that would prevent her from racing unless she medically lowers her natural testosterone levels.
(Kamran Jebreili / Associated Press)

South African runner Caster Semenya filed an appeal Wednesday against the Court of Arbitration for Sport’s decision to uphold testosterone regulations for some female athletes in track and field.

The two-time Olympic 800-meter champion’s lawyers said she lodged an appeal with the Swiss Federal Tribunal, Switzerland’s supreme court. CAS, sport’s highest court, is based in Switzerland.

Semenya’s appeal focuses on “fundamental human rights,” the lawyers said.


Under the IAAF’s new rules, upheld by the CAS this month, Semenya is not allowed to run in international races from 400 meters to one mile unless she medically lowers her natural testosterone levels. She said after the CAS decision that she would not take medication and repeated her defiance in Wednesday’s statement announcing her appeal.

“I am a woman and I am a world-class athlete,” Semenya said. “The IAAF will not drug me or stop me from being who I am.”

The 28-year-old Semenya, who is also a three-time world champion, is one of a number of female athletes with a medical condition known as a “difference of sex development” that causes high levels of natural testosterone. The IAAF says that gives them an advantage over other female athletes because of testosterone’s ability to help athletes build muscle and carry more oxygen in their blood.

But the IAAF requires Semenya and others affected by the rules to take hormone-suppressing medication or have surgery if they want to compete in the restricted events. That’s been labeled as unethical by leading medical experts, including the World Medical Assn., which represents doctors across the world.

Semenya’s lawyers said, “The Swiss Federal Supreme Court will be asked to consider whether the IAAF’s requirements for compulsory drug interventions violate essential and widely recognized public policy values, including the prohibition against discrimination, the right to physical integrity, the right to economic freedom, and respect for human dignity.”

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Decisions made by CAS can be appealed to the Swiss Federal Tribunal on only a very limited number of grounds. One of them is a ruling that possibly violates a person’s human rights.

Semenya’s lawyers could also seek a temporary suspension of the IAAF rules, which came into effect May 8, to allow her to defend her 800 title at the world championships in Doha, Qatar, in September. The testosterone regulations specify that athletes must reduce their testosterone levels to a level decided by the IAAF for six months consistently before being allowed to run in international events.

Under the current regulations, Semenya can’t run the 800 or 1,500 meters, her favorite events, at any Diamond League meets this season or the world championships.