Semenya in last race before new rules kick in
To continue competing in 800m, Olympic champion must lower her testosterone level
Double Olympic champion Caster Semenya will run her last 800 metres today before the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) imposes hugely controversial new rules limiting testosterone in female athletes.
Semenya, who has spent years trying to get the new IAAF regulations thrown out, will compete at the Diamond League meeting in Doha against 2016 Olympic silver medallist Francine Niyonsaba - who recently revealed she had similar difference in sexual development (DSD) characteristics to the South African.
Both must begin taking medication to lower their testosterone levels if they wish to compete over that distance based on the new rules, which the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) said on Wednesday were necessary to ensure fair competition.
IAAF president Sebastian Coe, speaking in Doha yesterday, said he was grateful to CAS for the verdict.
"It is very straightforward for any association in sport," Coe told a media briefing.
"Athletics has two classifications - it has age and it has gender. We are fiercely protective of both. We are really grateful that CAS has upheld that principle."
Coe refused to take more questions, but the case is likely to have far-reaching consequences for women's sport, and has split opinion around the globe.
Athletics South Africa likened the new IAAF regulations to apartheid, and both it and Semenya's lawyers have said they could contest the CAS ruling dismissing her appeal against their introduction.
Under the rules to take effect on May 8, female athletes with high natural levels of testosterone wishing to compete in events from 400m to a mile must medically limit that level to under five nmol/L, which is double the normal female range of below two nmol/L.
Testosterone increases muscle mass, strength and haemoglobin, which affects endurance. Some competitors have said women with higher levels of the hormone have an unfair advantage.
Barring further legal action, Semenya finds herself at a crossroads: Either she submits to the regulations or looks to compete in longer distances.
The 28-year-old star claimed the 5,000m title at the South African Athletics Championships last week, an event not covered by the IAAF regulations, but in a modest time of 16:05.97, well below the qualifying standard for the world championships of 15:22.00.
This potential lifeline means Semenya may not abandon the 800m yet, though any advance to the Swiss Federal Tribunal could take months to reach a verdict and leave her career in limbo.
Former sprinter Michael Johnson, who won four Olympic gold medals between 1992 and 2000, believes the regulations are right for women's athletics.
"It was always going to be a difficult situation because, through no fault of her own, she just happens to have this condition," Johnson told Reuters.
"The IAAF has to make a decision on the line that's drawn between the female and the men's races. The decision was based on the fairness of sports, so that there is a level playing field for all of the athletes in any given race."
Semenya's personal best of 1:54.25 in the 800m will make her the quickest in the field in Doha's Diamond League meet, the first time she will compete over the distance this year. - REUTERS
Indian gender-row sprinter: Semenya made to suffer
Indian gender-row sprinter Dutee Chand yesterday said Caster Semenya's court defeat over testosterone rules was "wrong", but backed the Olympic 800-metres champion to overcome the potentially far-reaching ruling.
Chand, who fought and won a long battle over her own hyperandrogenism, or elevated levels of male sex hormones, said she felt sorry for the South African star, whose career has been plagued by controversy.
"This is wrong. I feel sad for her, she has been made to suffer like me," Chand, 23, told AFP.
Chand, who was subjected to humiliating gender-testing as a teenager, was finally cleared to compete last year after winning a court appeal against International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) regulations.
Chand successfully challenged the IAAF's stance on hyperandrogenism, prompting the world governing body to change its rules to target only middle-distance events, arguing these were most affected by elevated testosterone.
Chand, who won 100m and 200m silver at last year's Asian Games, was hopeful that Semenya's legal team will find a way to succeed.
"The legal team that fought my case, I handed them over to Semenya. She and her team will find a way out. She is an Olympic medallist and her country is behind her," Chand said. - AFP