While too many activist groups are trying to erase all distinctions between genders, the sports world is frantically trying to put some boundaries around them.
Olympic champion runner Caster Semenya of South Africa announced this week she will challenge a new international rule limiting women’s testosterone levels in middle-distance track and field races. Semenya—who experts speculate would be affected by the new rule but has never spoken publicly about her hormone levels—issued a press release calling the new regulation “discriminatory, irrational, unjustifiable” and said she would appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sports.
In April, the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF), track and field’s governing body, announced it will begin restricting entry to international events from 400 meters through the mile to women with testosterone levels above a specified level. Set to take effect Nov. 1, the new regulation will require athletes with a Difference of Sexual Development (DSD), sometimes called hyperandrogenism, to reduce and maintain their blood testosterone levels to below 5 nanomoles per liter. Average levels for women, including elite female athletes, range from 0.12 to 1.79 nanomoles per liter, according to the IAAF. The organization said it had “broad medical and scientific consensus, supported by peer-reviewed data and evidence” to back its new policy, including research that found 7 in every 1,000 elite female track athletes have elevated testosterone, 140 times what you would find in the general female population.
“The revised rules are not about cheating, no athlete with a DSD has cheated,” the IAAF said in its statement. “They are about leveling the playing field to ensure fair and meaningful competition.”
Semenya, 27, is a two-time Olympic and three-time world champion in the 800 meters. NBC Sports reported that track officials mandated she undergo gender testing in 2009 after she won the 800 meters world championship title by nearly 2.5 seconds. In 2011, the IAAF switched from gender verification testing to natural testosterone level testing. In 2015, the court of arbitration suspended the regulation, ruling it unjustifiably discriminatory. Since 2015, Semenya’s career has taken off.
If her testosterone levels are over the limit, the new regulation would require Semenya to take hormone supplements to reduce her testosterone. If she refused, she could compete in non-international competitions, in short- or long-distance races, in the male classification, or in competitions that offer an intersex classification.
“I just want to run naturally, the way I was born,” Semenya said in a statement Monday. “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.”
Semenya’s appeal requests the court of arbitration suspend the new regulation until it reaches a ruling. —K.C.