A row between Caster Semenya and athletics’ governing body erupted on Monday as her lawyers claimed confidentiality rules had been breached for her behind-closed-doors fight to compete internationally without medical intervention.
Semenya, who appeared at the Court of Arbitration for Sport (Cas) in Switzerland on Monday, says the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) broke rules by releasing a detailed list of five experts due to give evidence at the five-day hearing.
The landmark case surrounding athletes with “differences of sexual development” (DSD) is hearing this week how the IAAF wants athletes like Semenya, who was born with internal testes, to have their testosterone reduced to female levels before they compete internationally in order to ensure fairness with other women.
Relations between Semenya and the governing body are already said to be strained over reports last week that the IAAF will make an argument this week that the athlete can be classified as female despite being a “biological male”.
The two-time Olympic 800-metre champion ignored questions as she arrived at the court on Monday, but instead flashed her fingers in a peace sign and smiled.
On the first day of the hearing, Semenya’s legal team sent out a press release accusing the IAAF of breaching confidentiality regulations by releasing the names of five expert witnesses they will bring to the Cas to testify on their behalf.
Caster Semenya v IAAF | What is the case about?
- Caster Semenya is challenging a proposal by athletics’ governing body to limit testosterone levels in female athletes competing in distances of between 400m and one mile. The IAAF wants some female athletes with “differences of sexual development” (DSD) to take hormone suppressants to lower their levels in middle distance events where, it claims, the effect is greatest.
- Semenya is the best-known and most successful athlete with hyperandrogenism, which means her testosterone levels are naturally elevated. The average testosterone levels for women are between 0.52 and 2.43 nmol/L (nanomoles per litre of blood), while for men it is between 10.41 to 34.70. Unconfirmed reports suggest that Semenya may have up to three times the testosterone levels of the average woman.
- Both the IAAF and the International Olympic Committee plan to reduce the testosterone limit level from 10 nanomoles per litre to five for female athletes. Estimates suggest that if Semenya were to take medication to suppress her testosterone levels, she could end up running between five and seven seconds slower over 800m.
- The new IAAF rules were intended to be brought in on November 1 last year, but were delayed until March 26 after the legal challenge from Semenya and Athletics South Africa (ASA) who are seeking to overturn the ruling. The case to settle the dispute began on February 18 at the Court of Arbitration for Sport (Cas) in Lausanne, Switzerland, but a verdict is not expected until next month at the earliest.
- Semenya’s legal team has argued in papers at the Cas that the IAAF’s regulations are “discriminatory, irrational, unjustifiable, and in violation of the IAAF Constitution”. The athlete herself has remained tight-lipped on the subject, but frequently posts emotive quotes on her Twitter and Instagram accounts urging people to accept themselves and others for who they are.
“The arbitration proceedings are subject to strict confidentiality provisions and this information should not have been released‚” Semenya’s lawyers said in a statement on Monday.
“Ms Semenya believes the IAAF press release is a clear breach of the confidentiality provisions that was orchestrated in an effort to influence public opinion in circumstances where the IAAF knew that Ms Semenya would not be prepared to respond because she was complying with her confidentiality obligations. As a matter of fairness Ms Semenya raised this issue with the Cas and has been granted permission to publicly release information responding to the IAAF press release‚ including disclosing the experts who are testifying in support of Ms Semenya’s case. This information will be released tomorrow.”
Athletics South Africa supported Semenya, adding that it “notes with great dismay and disappointment that despite the parties having been bound to confidentiality undertakings and ASA consistently adhering to them, IAAF has during the course of the proceedings released the names and backgrounds of their expert witnesses and provided a brief expose of their views of the topics to be covered by them in the current proceedings at the Cas.”
Semenya has been unbeatable over 800m since 2015 when CAS changed the rules to allow DSD athletes, many of whom are born with internal testes and produce high levels of testosterone, to compete without taking testosterone-suppressing medication. A fresh judgment is not expected until March.
The IAAF, which was not immediately available to respond on the witness list, wants to change the rules to create “a level playing field to ensure all female athletes have an equal chance to excel”. However, Semenya’s legal team will argue the natural advantages she derives from being a DSD are no different than those other athletes enjoy.
Last week, Semenya’s lawyers said their case will be based on evidence that she is “unquestionably a woman”. The South African athlete will argue she should be allowed to compete without having to take medication to reduce her testosterone levels.
The case brings a divisive issue to a head. While many track athletes support the IAAF, the 18-time tennis grand slam singles champion Martina Navratilova says Semenya has been unfairly targeted by new rules.
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