Opinion

Caster Semenya faces another obstacle in her fight for the rights of women athletes

Posted by
Aiden Wynn
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Caster Semenya has been told she must take suppressants if she wants to compete

Caster Semenya’s fight to be treated equally as an athlete has been dealt another cruel blow.

Caster Semenya is a double Olympic champion, and she’s a three-time world 800m champion for South Africa. But her stellar running career has been overshadowed by a fight over whether or not she should be allowed to compete.

Semenya has hyperandrogenism – a medical condition characterised by excessive levels of testosterone and other male sex hormones. In order to compete at distances from 400m to a mile, Semenya would have to abide by an International Association of Athletics Federation (IAAF) rule that she reduce her testosterone levels by using hormone suppressing drugs.

The athlete had appealed against the ruling twice, first to the Court of Arbitration in Sport (CAS), which overturned the IAAF’s rule for a period of two years until April 2018. A further appeal was made to the Swiss Federal Supreme Court, which on 31 July dealt Semenya a blow by deciding to uphold the IAAF’s rules. As a result, Semenya has said she will not defend her 800m title in the upcoming World Athletics Championships this September.

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Semenya has testosterone levels that are above 5 nmol/L, and is therefore described as having a Difference of Sexual Development, or DSD. The IAAF has ruled that this gives her an ‘unfair advantage’ over her competitors, and athletes like Paula Radcliffe have supported the move, claiming that allowing women like Semenya to run would be “the death of women’s sport”. The IAAF has stated that its policies aren’t meant to undermine Semenya’s womanhood, but are intended to create a “level playing field” in women’s sport.

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Following the latest decision, Semenya has received support from many, including American actress Trace Lysette.

Twitter user Heather Campbell-Ferguson called out the hypocritical practice of forcing women with naturally higher testosterone levels to take hormone suppressors. 

As awful as this all is though, it does not take away from Semenya’s huge success. She is still a multi-medal holding, World Champion athlete. And she can boast this incredible achievement in spite of her ongoing legal and public fight for the human rights of, as she told the BBC, herself and “all of the female athletes concerned”. 

Semenya is clearly not only a phenomenal athletic talent but also incredibly strong mentally and emotionally. Her determination to continue to fight and compete shows an unmatched dedication to her sport. 

Images: Getty

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Aiden Wynn

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