The Court of Arbitration for Sport has upheld a decision to place restrictions on women athletes who produce high levels of testosterone

Caster Semenya
Credit: Roger Sedres/AP/REX/Shutterstock

The highest court in international sports has ruled that a two-time Olympic gold medalist has to take medication to reduce her naturally high levels of testosterone in order to compete in certain women’s races, reports say.

Caster Semenya, 28, had appealed to the Court of Arbitration for Sport to challenge the controversial International Association of Athletics Federations rule that targeted women who naturally produce high levels of testosterone, according to the Washington Post. However, the CAS sided with the IAAF, allowing it to restrict athletes like Semenya, whose testosterone levels are naturally higher than those of most women.

Although CAS officials acknowledged that the restrictions are discriminatory, they held in a statement that “such discrimination is a necessary, reasonable and proportionate means of achieving the legitimate objective of ensuring fair competition in female athletics.”

Semenya, a three-time world champion, won gold in the 800 at the past two Olympics and won her first world title when she was just 18 years old, the Post reported. She is believed to have an intersex condition, according to the Post.

Caster Semenya

“I know the IAAF’s regulations have always targeted me specifically,” Semenya said in a statement through her lawyers, according to the New York Times.

“For a decade the IAAF has tried to slow me down, but this has actually made me stronger. The decision of the C.A.S will not hold me back. I will once again rise above and continue to inspire young women and athletes in South Africa and around the world.”

Now, if Semenya wants to continue competing in the 800 meters at major, international events, she must either take hormone-suppressants, compete against men, or enter competitions for intersex athletes — if any such competitions are offered, according to the Times.

The IAAF argued that athletes with unusually high testosterone levels don’t conform to standard definitions of male and female and, thus, have an unfair advantage in competition, according to the Associated Press. However, the CAS noted that applying testosterone limits could prove difficult as it may be practically impossible for some athletes to comply due to the side effects of the medications, the Times reported.

The CAS’ decision sparked outrage among social media users and human rights organizations. CREA, a feminist human rights organization in New Delhi, called the decision “deeply disturbing” in a tweet. Meanwhile, organizers of the Women’s March declared in a Twitter post that the ruling had “disastrous racist, sexist, and transphobic implications.”

The IAAF has said it is “grateful” for the CAS’ response to Semenya’s challenge, according to the Post. Semenya can appeal to the Swiss Federal Tribunal within the next 30 days and it is unclear whether she plans to comply with the IAAF rule to both defend her world title and compete at the Tokyo Olympics in 2020.

“Ms. Semenya believes that women like her should be respected and treated as any other athlete,” the statement through her lawyers continued. “As is typically the case across the sport, her unique genetic gift should be celebrated, not regulated.