Explanation and reaction to the Caster Semenya ruling

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Caster Semenya at the 2018 Paris Diamond League. Photo: Matthew Quine

Multiple Olympic and world 800m champion Caster Semenya yesterday lost her appeal against testosterone regulations set by the IAAF.

The athletics governing body stated that her heightened testosterone levels give her an “unfair advantage” over her competitors, while Semenya believes she has every right to “run naturally, the way I was born”.

And despite a strong and lengthy appeal from Semenya and her legal team, a three-judge panel from the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) officially voted two-to-one in favour of the IAAF, signalling a rare defeat for the three-time world champion.

The South African, whose testosterone levels are naturally higher than the IAAF cap of 5 nmol/L for females, now has no choice but to take testosterone lowering substances to meet the criteria for female athletes.

On her twitter account, Semenya today posted ‘cryptic’ tweet presumably about the IAAF ruling, which stated “Knowing when to walk away is wisdom. Being able to is courage. Walking away with your head held high is dignity.”

While it is unclear what exactly is meant by this, the 28-year-old will still compete at the opening Diamond League meet in Doha tomorrow without having to take hormone-reducing substances.

After this race however, Semenya will have no option but to choose whether or not she defends her world 800m title in October with reduced hormones, or relinquishes her title in protest against the new regulations.

The world 800m champion however does have the option of competing in other events which don’t require reduced testosterone, with the new rules only covering all distances from 400m to the mile.

The pre-Doha press conference meanwhile saw IAAF president Seb Coe state that he was “grateful” for the CAS ruling, but did not take any further questions relating to the case.


With this being such a unique case, it has drawn many different reactions from a variety of figures.

South Africa’s athletics governing body ASA has reacted very strongly, calling the ruling “disgraceful” as well as having echoes of apartheid.

The governing body stated: “CAS has seen it fit to open the wounds of apartheid a system of discrimination condemned by the whole world as a crime against humanity.

“For CAS does not only condone discrimination but also goes to lengths to justify it, only undermines the integrity that this body is entrusted with. We believe their decision is disgraceful.”

The South African government also showed solidarity with Caster Semenya, using the slogan “naturally superior” and expressing that Semenya will “remain our golden girl.”

South Africa are certainly not alone in their stance behind Semenya, with executive editor of Out Magazine Raquel Willis claiming that the ruling is another case of “black women’s bodies (continuing) to be demonized & restrained by white considerations of ‘normality’.”, while UK Black Pride have stated that they “stand with Caster Semenya and Black women everywhere whose bodies and womanhood are violated and policed.”

Former 800m Olympian Madeleine Pape also voiced “solidarity” with Semenya, saying that “athletes with high T are as much my sisters on the track as any other women.”

Some other athletes however expressed approval with the new regulations, with two-time Olympian Nick Symmonds iterating that Semenya “should not be allowed to race against XX females” and implying that opposing views to the ruling were not “based on science.”

The news was also welcomed by former Olympic swimmer Sharron Davies, who said that while people should be able to live and identify as they please, sport should be based purely on biology.

Author and coach Steve Magness, as well as others, did take a sympathetic view towards Caster Semenya, while also displaying agreement with the IAAF’s decision.

However, Magness also admitted that this was more of a ‘no-win’ situation, where people on either side of the argument would rightly feel hard done by regardless of the decision.

“We want fairness.” said Magness as prt of a long twitter thread “We’re emotion driven creatures that are driven towards closure and solutions. This is a case that does not give that emotional contentment regardless of what side you are on.”

The next step

As mentioned previously, Semenya will have one final race at 800m at tomorrow’s Doha Diamond League before deciding whether or not to continue at the distance with reduced hormones.

Doha will of course also be hosting this year’s IAAF World Championships between 27th September to 6th October.

Whether the defending 800m champion decides to compete there at all remains to be seen, with her only other realistic option of avoiding hormone reducing regulations being to compete in the 5000m.

Either way, the case has made things a lot more complicated for Semenya, while also continuing to divide opinion among many fans and athletes.