Caster Semenya files legal challenge against ‘discriminatory’ IAAF rule

800m champion Caster Semenya confirmed yesterday she had teamed up with lawyer Gregory Nott, 58, to confront the IAAF over its recently amended rule that compels women athletes to lower their natural testosterone levels.

Athletics’ governing body the IAAF had ruled in April that some female runners with naturally high testosterone levels will have to race against men, or change events, unless they take medication. The rule, which comes into force on 1 November, applies to women who race in track events from 400m up to the mile.

Semenya, a two-time Olympic champion and three-time world champion, has previously been asked to undertake gender testing by athletics chiefs, but no results have ever officially been made public.

“It is not fair. I just want to run naturally, the way I was born,” said the two-time Olympic champion. “I am Mokgadi Caster Semenya. I am a woman and I am fast.”

She will fight the ruling at the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) in Lausanne with Nott, of international law firm Norton Rose Fulbright, who previously won a legal battle against the IAAF to allow Semenya back to competition after she was subjected to a gender verification row in 2009, reports BBC Sport.

“Ms. Semenya, like all athletes, is entitled to compete the way she was born without being obliged to alter her body by any medical means,” said the athlete’s lawyers. Semenya says that the ruling further stigmatizes women who do not conform to contrived notions of femininity, and may cause some to take unsafe measure to alter their bodies as a result.

Photo: Chris Pietsch/The Register-Guard via Associated Press

“I am very upset that I have been pushed into the public spotlight again,” Semenya said in her first extensive remarks about the rule since it was announced in April. “It is not fair that I am told I must change. It is not fair that people question who I am.”

Her team also contends the new regulation “continues the offensive practice of intrusive surveillance and judging of women’s bodies which has historically haunted women’s sports.”

Though she has identified as a woman her entire life, the 27-year-old is also considered intersex, meaning she was born with a reproductive or sexual anatomy that does not conform to traditional definitions of male or female. Semenya has a medical condition known as hyperandrogenism, characterized by elevated levels of male sex hormones—such as testosterone—in the female body.

Since testosterone is one of the key ingredients contributing to an athlete’s strength and speed, many—including some of her competitors—feel Semenya has an unfair advantage.

A spokesperson for the I.A.A.F. is quoted saying in the New york Times, “We stand ready to defend the new regulations at the Court of Arbitration should we be asked to do so.”

The I.A.A.F. said it was not accusing intersex athletes of cheating or requiring them to undergo surgery. Sebastian Coe, president of the I.A.A.F., said in April that the rule was simply meant to level the playing field “to ensure fair and meaningful competition.”