Written by Megan Armitage
South African middle-distance runner and 2016 Olympic gold medallist, Caster Semenya has lost her appeal against the World Athletics Association. Semenya was challenging the Association’s rules about the restriction of testosterone levels in female athletes. As an intersex cisgender woman, Semenya was assigned the gender of ‘female’ at birth and naturally produces increased testosterone levels due to a 5a-Reductase deficiency that she was born with.
Through her naturally elevated levels, her performance as a female athlete has been questioned by others throughout her professional career, many arguing that she has an unfair advantage over the other athletes on the track.
After the Court of Arbitration for Sport defended their rules of testosterone levels in Athletics in 2019, the 800m Olympic champion challenged the Swiss Supreme Court earlier this year to appeal for a change in ethics.
However, early September came with a defying blow in which her appeal was lost.
Semenya is now unable to compete in athletics events between 400m and a mile, unless she takes testosterone-suppressing drugs to decrease her advantage.
“Fairness in sport is a legitimate concern and forms a central principle of sporting competition,” said the Supreme Swiss Court in a public statement.
This has been a saddening change for the runner who, after being unable to defend her world title last year, must now change her training and attitude towards the 2021 Tokyo Olympics.
“I am very disappointed by this ruling, but refuse to let World Athletics drug me or stop me from being who I am,” Semenya asserted in a recent, public, statement.
This signifies a change in sport as a whole, as many wonder what this means for other athletes who have natural advantages. Throughout her appeal, many have compared Semenya’s situation to that of Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps and their difference in treatment by the public and their world governing bodies.
Phelps is known as the most decorated Olympian of all time, collecting a staggering 28 Olympic medals whilst being a professional athlete. What many do not know, is that Phelps has the natural ability to produce half the lactic acid that a typical professional athlete exerts whilst competing. Alongside his disproportionate wingspan and double-jointed ankles, which made his kick much more flexible, Phelps had a natural advantage over the other competitors in the pool.
Yet, as we look back on the ‘Michael Phelps-era’ of sport, it brings forward the question as to why we celebrate Phelps for his natural advantages and continually punish Semenya for hers.
Semenya has refused to consider taking the drugs and has instead shifted her focus to the 200m for Tokyo, a distance in which she does not need to take medication for in order to compete.
She will continue to fight for justice in her field and for others who are disregarded in sport due to gender and performance, carrying on doing the sport she loves without changing herself for anyone:
“I know what is right and will do all I can to protect basic human rights, for young girls everywhere.”
Megan Armitage is a final year English student and the Swim Captain at the University of Leicester. She is currently interested in pursuing a career in Sports Journalism.