A Swiss court ordered the governing body of track and field to suspend regulations on Monday barring female athletes with elevated testosterone levels from competing in top-level middle-distance races.
South African Olympian Caster Semenya had argued that the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) rule violated her human rights. “I am a woman, and I am a world-class athlete,” Semenya said. “The IAAF will not drug me or stop me from being who I am.”
The IAAF regulation requires females with naturally elevated testosterone levels, like Semenya, to take medication to reduce their levels for six months prior to competing in the 400-meter, 800-meter, and 1,500-meter races at international competitions. Women with the disorder have testosterone levels in the male range, which gives them greater muscle-building capacity and allows them to carry more oxygen in their blood.
The Court of Arbitration for Sport in Switzerland decided last month that the rule was necessary to achieve fairness among female athletes. Semenya appealed to the Swiss Federal Tribunal, the country’s highest court, and it suspended the regulation.
The case affects other elite runners. Last month Margaret Wambui of Kenya followed Semenya and Francine Niyonsaba of Burundi in announcing she falls under the new regulations. Now all three medalists in the 800-meter race at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics—Semenya with gold, Niyonsaba with silver, and Wambui with bronze—have acknowledged they have elevated testosterone levels. Wambui said she would not take any medication to reduce her levels, and said she was considering switching to the 100- and 200-meter races.
Monday’s decision temporarily lifts the IAAF rules until the federation responds with its arguments, which are due by June 25. If the IAAF does not convince the court to overturn ruling, the regulations will remain suspended until Semenya’s full appeal is heard by a panel of Swiss judges. That could take up to a year.
In the meantime, Semenya could be cleared to run the 800-meter race in the world track and field championships in Doha, Qatar, in September and October. —K.C.