Not so fast ... World Athletics unlikely to budge despite Caster Semenya's court win

South African athlete Caster Semenya poses for photos after her victory in at 3000m race at the Green Point stadium in Cape Town

While Caster Semenya’s victory in the European Court of Human Rights was a landmark moment, the decision won’t change anything on the athletics track World Athletics insisted. Picture: Phando Jikelo/African News Agency(ANA)

Published Jul 12, 2023


Despite Caster Semenya on Tuesday winning her case in the European Court of Human Rights which ruled the double Olympic champion was the victim of discrimination, she will still be barred from competing on the track for the foreseeable future.

Aged 32, Semenya is arguably past her prime and had already been barred from competing in World Athletics events as an athlete with Difference of Sexual Development (DSD) for the past few years.

DSD athletes have naturally high levels of testosterone and have been banned from competing in athletics events from 400m to the mile since 2018. Earlier this year, World Athletics (WA) extended that ban to all track and field events.

While Semenya’s victory in the courtroom was a landmark moment for human rights, the decision won’t change anything on the athletics track WA insisted.

“We remain of the view that the ... regulations are a necessary, reasonable and proportionate means of protecting fair competition in the female category as the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) and Swiss Federal Tribunal both found,” WA said in a statement.

Semenya’s lawyers said in a statement: “Caster has never given up her fight to be allowed to compete and run free. This important personal win for her is also a wider victory for elite athletes around the world. It means that sporting governance bodies around the world must finally recognise that human rights law and norms apply to the athletes they regulate.”

CAS will need to provide another ruling on the matter before Semenya could potentially be allowed to compete again. However, that could take years (Semenya had already been challenging the WA ruling since 2018) and the likeliest scenario is that a final decision will be made only in the distant future. It means, if Semenya is allowed to compete freely again - she will be too old to be competitive.

Semenya won gold in the women’s 800m at the 2016 Rio Olympics in what was the proudest moment of her career. Semenya had also won gold at the previous edition of the Olympics in London in 2012, but that was only after being upgraded from silver to gold, after finishing second to Russian Mariya Savinova who was disqualified for doping.

At the age of 18, Semenya was subjected to the most cruel and public shaming (which included crude gender tests carried out by athletics officials) in sporting history after winning the 2009 World Championship women’s 800m title.

Back then, there were questions over her gender and whether she should be able to compete. The questions about her appearance have since shifted to her genetic makeup as a female athlete, with the ban by World Athletics coming in 2018, and effectively meant Semenya would never again, be able to compete in the events in which she has excelled.

Meanwhile, Athletics SA (ASA) said it will make a determination on Semenya’s rights to participate’ again.


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