South African athlete Caster Semenya has been involved in a long legal battle with the International Association of Athletics Federation over its decision to restrict testosterone levels in female runners for distances between 400m and a mile.
The runner takes part in the 800-metre races and she has been utterly dominant winning her last 30 races in a row. Caster was born with intersex traits meaning her body produces atypically high levels of testosterone. As she was born with these traits she has had no control over these levels but the IAAF has enforced new rules limiting the amount of testosterone female athletes can have in their system. The debate has raised the questions as to whether Caster’s situation is a gift and occurred naturally and therefore she is being discriminated against.
The South African athlete lost her discrimination case against the International Association of Athletics Federation, which has found that forcing athletes with high levels testosterone to lower them is “discriminatory but necessary”. They argue that athletes with these high levels of testosterone gain an unfair advantage which limits competition amongst other athletes who don’t have possess these high levels.
The ruling means she will have to take testosterone suppressants if she wishes to compete in these shorter events. Three sports judges in Switzerland have taken more than two months to reach this verdict indicating the sensitivity and complexity of the case.
What does this mean for future athletes?
The recruitment of future female runners could be tricky due to this ruling. From the world championships, all female athletes competing in the 400m to a mile will be tested for their testosterone levels. This process could prove to be very invasive and if they test positive athletes would have to seek treatment to bring down their levels.
Young athletes who see this treatment and may have to go through it from a young age may be discouraged from continuing in their sport and could ultimately stop competing. If athletics were to see a drop in the recruitment of young athletes it could have a potentially damaging effect on the future of the sport.