JOHANNESBURG - Caster Semenya, the 800m world and Olympic champion, filed a legal challenge to the controversial IAAF female classification rules on Monday, saying “I just wants to run naturally, the way I was born".
Semenya's lawyers released a statement saying their client would launch the challenge at the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) in Switzerland “to ensure, safeguard and protect the rights of all women”.
“She asserts that the regulations are discriminatory, irrational, unjustifiable, and in violation of the IAAF (International Association of Athletics Federations) constitution, the Olympic Charter, the laws of Monaco (where the IAAF is based), the laws of jurisdictions in which international competitions are held, and of universally recognised human rights,” international law firm Norton Rose Fulbright said.
Semenya said: “I am very upset that I have been pushed into the public spotlight again. I don't like talking about this new rule. I just want to run naturally, the way I was born. It is not fair that I am told I must change. It is not fair that people question who I am. I am Mokgadi Caster Semenya. I am a woman and I am fast.”
The IAAF introduced a new policy in April in attempt to regulate women who naturally produce testosterone levels above 5 nanomoles per litre of blood. For now, the regulations are limited to athletes who compete in events ranging from the 400 metres to a mile.
The global athletics governing body's amended regulations would go into effect in November and would require female athletes to maintain testosterone levels to below 5 nanomoles per litre for a continuous period of at least six months. Semenya will ask the IAAF to suspend the implementation of the regulations until her legal challenge is disposed of.
“Without a timely halt to the regulations, healthy women around the world could undergo unnecessary medical intervention in order to be eligible to compete under the regulations or be unfairly prevented from participating in their chosen sport,” the statement said.
Norton Rose Fulbright re- vealed it would tackle the IAAF with the support of Davies Ward Phillips & Vineberg, LLP, who represented Indian sprinter Dutee Chand in her successful challenge to the IAAF's 2011 hyperandrogenism regulations. The CAS ruled in 2015 that the IAAF needed to provide scientific evidence that enhanced testosterone levels translated into improved performances in hyperandrogenic athletes.
Semenya's legal challenge formed part of a two-pronged approach to dealing with the new regulations, with the collective South African sports movement also planning to file papers with the CAS. Spearheaded by the Department of Sport, the SA Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee (Sascoc) and Athletics SA, the local collective is expected to make its own submission.
Sascoc president, Gideon Sam, said a committee headed by Dr Phatho Zondi had been meeting regularly in a bid to plot a way forward. The committee includes a sports physician, legal counsel, an endocrinologist and a sports scientist.
“They will put a report together which they will submit to Sports Ministry director-general Alec Moemi, who will discuss it with the minister (Tokozile Xasa),” Sam said. “That would be the response by the South Africans. As we said, we would make sure we have all our ducks in a row when we tackle them, ensuring there are no loopholes in our approach.”
In the statement, Norton Rose Fulbright said Semenya contends that the regulations were objectionable on numerous grounds. They argue that the regulations would compel women to undergo medical interventions to lower their testosterone without the support of concrete science.
“Ms Semenya is equally concerned by the way in which the regulations continue the offensive practice of intrusive surveillance and judging of women's bodies which has historically haunted women's sports,” the statement said.
“The regulations stigmatise and cause harm to women, and legitimise discrimination against women in sport who are perceived as not adhering to normative ideas about femininity.” Norton Rose Fulbright said it was honoured to represent Semenya in the landmark case, which it believed would have major consequences for gender rights.