Olympic runner Caster Semenya is being attacked.
The Swiss Supreme Court has officially issued their ruling in Semenya’s final appeal case against World Athletics and has reaffirmed the IAAF’s ruling that Semenly cannot compete in the 800 meter run at the Olympics due to the natural levels of testosterone in her body.
The International Association of Athletics Federation (IAAF) passed the rule in 2019, stating that female runners whose bodies naturally produce high levels of testosterone would have to take medication to suppress those levels.
The decision is a direct dig at Semenya, who spent years fighting the decision. But now the ruling has officially been upheld by the Swiss Supreme Court and the fight is over.
According to the decision, in order for her to be eligible, Semenya would have to be on testosterone-reducing medication for six months to qualify again. Not to mention that she can now only compete in the 400m category.
The IAAF claims the ruling isn’t targeted at Semenya, but the verdict doesn’t apply to all track and field categories, only the 800m distance, which just so happens to be the race Semenya runs.
Semenya has been attacked on the basis of her gender and race ever since her career skyrocketed in 2009. After winning the 800m run at the IAFF championships in Berlin in 2009, Time Magazine published an insulting article titled “Could the Women’s 800-meter World Champ Be a Man?” Prior to competing in the championships, Semenya was even required to undergo invasive and demeaning testing to ensure that she was eligible to run in the women’s category.
It has been speculated that Semenya was born with intersex traits, but despite the constant testing, nothing has been confirmed. (Don’t know what it means to be “intersex”? You can read about it here).
Regardless of Semenya’s biology, she’s a badass Black woman who practiced for years to hone her craft. She’s so amazing that people wanted to burn out her light.
The Swiss Supreme Court’s decision is not only unfair but also sexist —something that World Athletics has even acknowledged. Semenya hasn’t taken any performance-enhancing drugs, she’s literally being punished for who she is.
On the other hand, Michael Phelps has a wide wingspan and the perfect body for swimming, which gives him an advantage, yet no one has ever said that it was unfair. Instead, he’s been celebrated for it. Height is seen as a desirable trait in basketball but players like Shaquille O’Neil or Yao Ming don’t get penalized for their stature. So why should Semenya?
If sports associations are going to go after one advantage, they need to go after all of them. Because this double standard is discriminatory.
It should also be noted that the verdict isn’t actually based on scientific research. According to the South African Institute for Drug-Free Sport Chairperson Dr. Shuaib Manjra,
“The IAAF is making a call on issues that science does not know.”
The issue has also been taken up by human rights activists and the United Nations Human Rights Council, which released a resolution that expressed concern with the regulations of female athletes.
One of their many concerns included that “there may have been a lack of legitimate and justifiable evidence for the regulations to the extent that they may not be reasonable and objective and lack proportionality between the aim of the regulations and the proposed measure.”
In other words, the regulations have no legitimate basis in science and are being unfairly applied.
Unfortunately, Semenya is not the first female runner to face such scrutiny and regulations. Runner Dutee Chand fought for years for her right to compete as a woman. In 2018, the IAAF finally made a ruling that women with naturally high testosterone levels could safely run in any race under 400m without regulations (Chand runs the 200m and 100m races).
Chand has since come out in support of Semenya and said,
“As soon as I heard the news I felt sad for Semenya. My mind went back to those nearly two years which were my worst days when I did not know what to do. But Semenya has been facing this for quite a long time (since 2009) and so it is not a sudden thing. I think and hope she will be able to face this better than me.”
As for Semenya, she released a statement proving just how incredible she is. She wrote on Twitter,
“A man can change the rules but the very same man can not rule my life. What I’m saying is that I might have failed against them the truth is that I have won this battle long ago. Go back to my achievements then you will understand. Doors might be closed not locked.”
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This article has been updated since it was originally published on May 7, 2019.
Alysia Stevenson is a twenty-seven New York City transplant currently living in Florida with her boyfriend and three furbabies. When she’s not writing, you can find her watching beauty tutorials on Youtube or Parks and Rec for the millionth time.