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Dalton Myers | Semenya ruling will change athletics forever

Published:Saturday | February 23, 2019 | 12:00 AM
South Africa’s Caster Semenya, the current 800m Olympic gold medallist and world champion, arrives for the first day of her hearing at the international Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) in Lausanne, Switzerland, on Monday. Semenya has filed an appeal in the CAS against the International Association of Athletics Federations ruling, which will force some female runners, those with differences of sexual development (DSD), to reduce their testosterone levels for six months before racing internationally.

The war between Olympian Caster Semenya and the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) is now heating up over the new IAAF ‘Eligibility Regulations for Female Classification (Athletes with Differences of Sex Development)’, which was due to come into effect on November 1, 2018. This landmark case is more than just sport with underpinnings of race, politics, accusations of gender discrimination, and much more.

The new IAAF regulations follow their study – led by Dr Stephane Bermon and Dr Pierre-Yves Garnier – which argued that in select events, female athletes with very high testosterone levels benefit from a 1.8% to 4.5% advantage over other average females. The regulation would require female athletes who are considered to have a DSD, which means that their levels of circulating testosterone (in serum) measure five nanomoles per litre (nmol/L) or above, and who are androgen-sensitive, to meet certain criteria to compete in IAAF-sanctioned events. Then on June 9, 2018 the Court of Arbitration for Sports (CAS) indicated that Semenya had filed a ‘Request for Arbitration’. On that same day, the IAAF issued a press release defending its position, while confirming it had also received notification from CAS.

My position on the rule is well documented in my Gleaner-published columns ‘A Look at the IAAF’s testosterone rule: Part One’ and Part Two dated May 5 and May 12, 2018, respectively. Generally, I have supported Semenya’s challenge of the regulations primarily because of its many weaknesses overall.

The hearing itself started earlier this week and immediately before that, the body named its list of experts who are expected to testify. Semenya hit back, and accused the athletics bosses of breach of confidentiality, stating that both parties were to be silent on matters related to the closed-door hearing. Semenya then sought the permission of the courts and later announced her list of experts expected to testify. We will not hear the full details of the hearing; however, a decision will be made, followed by the CAS publishing of its justification with notes.

SPORTING DIVIDE

 

This case has divided not just the athletics fraternity, but the entire sporting world, as other disciplines are paying attention since the ruling will have implications for their handling of women with DSD. The sports medicine and sports law fraternities are also divided on this issue because it touches areas such as human rights, constitutional law and sports ethics since the attempt to ‘correct’ or ‘normalise’ the testosterone levels through artificial measures is considered in some quarters as interfering with athletes’ human rights.

There might not be any clear winner of this case as the opposing positions are very strong. In South Africa, Semenya has garnered a lot of support with the country backing their star athlete, even suggesting that the IAAF is racist with the new rule. I still believe there are too many grey areas with the new rule, and this is what is creating the heavy resistance from Semenya and her supporters.

Many people believe that unlike the Dutee Chand case on a related issue, which the IAAF lost, the body has a stronger case this time. I agree, because the IAAF ensured that this time it answered some of the crucial questions posed by CAS in 2015. IAAF President Sebastian Coe says that, “The core value for the IAAF is the empowerment of girls and women through athletics. The regulations that we are introducing are there to protect the sanctity of fair and open competition”. He argues that this regulation is aimed at levelling the playing field, but Semenya’s supporters believe that it targets her and has very little to do with gender empowerment.

While the focus seems to be on Semenya, the IAAF has noted that there are other unnamed athletes who are considered to be DSD. It’s unclear whether there are any from the Caribbean, but it is important for us because we, too, might have athletes in the future, who might be impacted by this CAS ruling.

This landmark case will be studied for some time to come. The decision will be celebrated by many, but will also anger many others. The truth is that the IAAF always felt it had no choice but to protect those who consider DSD athletes to be more ‘man than woman’. Whatever happens, this will change track and field as we know it.

• Dalton Myers is a sports consultant and administrator. Email feedback to daltonsmyers@gmail.com or tweet @daltonsmyers