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Caster Semenya eyes damages case after study changes

FILE - South Africa’s Caster Semenya in action in the women's 800m heats during the Beijing 2015 IAAF World Championships. Photo: Srdjan Suki/EPA

FILE - South Africa’s Caster Semenya in action in the women's 800m heats during the Beijing 2015 IAAF World Championships. Photo: Srdjan Suki/EPA

Published Aug 24, 2021


CAPE TOWN – While Caster Semenya’s fight to run in her favourite 800m event continues, she is considering filing for damages from World Athletics following an amendment made to a study that was influential in stopping her from ultimately defending her Olympic title.

Semenya’s lawyer, Greg Nott, described the change in the British Journal of Sport Medicine’s (BJSM) wording in a study about female athletes with differences in sexual development (DSD) as “unfair, cynical and untoward”, and the timing of it just after the Tokyo Olympics as “shocking and reprehensible”.

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The New York Times reported recently that the scientists behind the 2017 study had now issued a correction about the impact that high levels of naturally occurring testosterone in female athletes had on performance, stating that these outcomes were “exploratory”, and that it “could have been misleading by implying a causal inference”.

The study played a major role in Semenya and other female DSD athletes being stopped from running in events from 400m to 1 500m, unless they took medication and/or underwent surgery to lower their testosterone levels.

The 30-year-old Semenya, who won the 800m gold medal at the 2012 and 2016 Olympics, refused to subject herself to such treatment, and tried to qualify for the Tokyo Games in the 5 000m event, which she was unable to do.

But the correction in the study has now prompted Nott to seek other avenues to gain justice for his client, having previously been unsuccessful at the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) in Lausanne, Switzerland.

Semenya has been waiting for a hearing at the European Court for Human Rights in Strasbourg, France for a number of months.

“We are considering the CAS route (once more). We are considering all options that are available to us. We will also look at damages to Caster – financial damages. She has been off the track since 2019, and we will look for damages as well possibly,” Nott told Independent Media yesterday.

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Asked who would be liable to pay such damages, Nott said: “We will look to the world body (World Athletics), and possibly certain individuals who have drummed this on. There is a fight here, and it’s not going away. I’ve been on this case for 12 years, and I am not giving up now.”

One of the individuals who has been a fervent supporter of the DSD rules is World Athletics president Sebastian Coe, who told the BBC at the weekend that the “reality is that the rules are here to stay”.

“There is 10 years of solid science that underpins the regulations," Coe told the BBC. “I am sorry if there are athletes who have been misled by self interested and conflicted observations often by lawyers. The reality is that the rules are here to stay.”

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But Nott is not giving up the cause. “Imagine me as a lawyer saying to you, I misled you. I would be stripped of my professional ranking,” he said.

“We are before the European Court for Human Rights. We are going to obviously look at what the consequences of this (correction) means for the ECHR. We have lodged our papers.

“We are going into the next phase of waiting for answers from various parties. We anticipate hopefully… we have been given a priority date, which we’ve been surprised by – we thought it would take longer. But it’s obviously a case of importance, so it’s been given a priority date.”

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