Since 2015, elite runner Caster Semenya has gone undefeated in the 800-meter event at the world track and field championships, but in a major setback, a major ruling means she won’t be allowed to compete in that event as long as she continues to refuse hormone treatments to reduce her testosterone levels.
The Swiss Supreme Court had issued a reprieve to Semenya in June, allowing her to compete while she continued to appeal International Association of Athletics Federation rules that female athletes must maintain a certain level of testosterone.
But on Tuesday, as the New York Times reports, the court reversed itself and reimposed the hormone restrictions governing women who run events in lengths of 400 meters to a mile.
Semenya appeared down, but not out by the turnaround, telling the Times in a statement that she would be continuing to “fight for the human rights of all the female athletes concerned.”
Semenya has just been riding high after being featured on the cover of Out magazine when news of the court’s ruling came out.
The South African athlete is believed to have an intersex condition that causes her to have naturally higher levels of testosterone than many women.
Semenya, a 28-year-old from South Africa, was legally classified as female at birth and has identified as female her whole life. She was born with the typical male XY chromosome pattern and a condition that results in male and female biological characteristics and testosterone higher than the typical female range.
Governing body IAAF rules state that women must take medication to lower their naturally occurring testosterone to levels it has deemed acceptable.
The IAAF maintains that higher levels of testosterone give female athletes an unfair advantage over others in terms of “muscle strength and oxygen-carrying capacity,” as the Times reports.
Semenya says its stance is patently unfair, discriminatory and based on questionable, if not outright junk, science.
As the Times explains:
To preserve their eligibility in the restricted events, intersex athletes would be required to lower their testosterone levels for six months before competing and to maintain those lower levels. But Semenya has refused to undergo hormone therapy.
She has called the rule medically unnecessary, as well as “discriminatory, irrational, unjustifiable” and a violation of the rules of sport and universally recognized human rights. She has accused the I.A.A.F. of specifically targeting her.
Semenya has received support from the United Nations Human Rights Council and the World Medical Association. The medical group has called on doctors not to take part in implementing the I.A.A.F. testosterone rule, which the group said was based on “weak evidence” from a single scientific study that is “currently being widely debated by the scientific community.”
For now, according to the Times, the only options Semenya seems to have to continue competing is if she runs a longer event, like a 5,000-meter run, but she wouldn’t be expected to medal in such an event.