The Complicated Case of Caster Semenya

By Mario Fraioli |
Semenya celebrates after winning gold at the London Olympics in 2012. Photo: T. Abdelmoumen | Creative Commons

First, to catch everyone up to speed in case you haven’t been paying attention to the news this past week: Caster Semenya, the two-time reigning women’s Olympic 800m champion from South Africa, lost her case against the IAAF in the Court of Arbitration for Sport, which concluded that “the DSD Regulations are discriminatory but that, on the basis of the evidence submitted by the parties, such discrimination is a necessary, reasonable and proportionate means of achieving the legitimate objective of ensuring fair competition in female athletics in certain events and protecting the ‘protected class’ of female athletes in those events.” So, if Semenya, or any other athlete with differences in sex development (DSDs), wants to compete internationally at distances from 400m to the mile, she’ll have to take medication to reduce her testosterone level to below 5 nmol/L for at least six months prior to competition. Does Semenya plan to comply? “Hell no,” she said after winning what could have been her last international 800m race ever at the Diamond League meet in Qatar last Friday. And can you blame her for being defiant? Again, hell no. Semenya has done nothing wrong. She hasn’t doped, cheated, or otherwise done anything with malicious intent. Semenya was born the way she is and is being punished for it. On the flipside, some experts say that her naturally elevated testosterone levels give her an unfair performance advantage over other women who cannot produce the hormone in the same way, which is the basis on which the IAAF made their decision. In short: It’s a messy situation, with athletic, ethical, scientific, and legal implications. There is no easy answer to the question of how to handle but it’s possible to sympathize with Semenya, who, as‘s Jonathan Gault pointed out via Twitter, “has endured criticism, hatred, and an invasion of privacy for no other reason than choosing to be herself. Semenya has emerged as a role model and someone to be admired,” while also appreciating the frustrations many of her rivals, who feel they’re at a disadvantage no matter how hard they train, have voiced. (more…)