Year in Review 2020, Biggest Sports Stories: Caster Semenya loses landmark case against World Athletics

Semenya lost her landmark case at the Federal Supreme Court of Switzerland against CAS' upholding of World Athletics' new set of rules restricting the testosterone levels in female athletes.

FP Sports December 29, 2020 10:34:22 IST
Year in Review 2020, Biggest Sports Stories: Caster Semenya loses landmark case against World Athletics

File image of Caster Semenya. Reuters

Editor's Note: It's that time of the year already. Every end comes with an opportunity to look back and reflect, and while 2020, by general consensus, was a forgettable affair, sports did manage to conjure some moments of lasting relevance. From Liverpool ending their Premier League title wait to the mighty Indian cricket team crashing like never before in Adelaide to the passing away of some of sports' all-time greats, the field of play, even in a truncated calendar, produced a fair share of shock, surprise, and awe. In Firstpost's latest series, we take a look at some of the biggest sporting moments of 2020.

One of the most defining moments in the world of athletics in recent years took place in September earlier this year when South African middle-distance runner Caster Semenya lost a landmark case at the highest court in Switzerland, a case involving herself, the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), World Athletics and a set of rules that could best be described as contentious.

Semenya has had quite the glittering career on the track, her stardom tracing its origins back to the 2009 World Championships in which she won the women's 800m final to win her first gold medal in a major global event. The Polokwane-born runner would then go on to win two more 800m gold medals in the World Championships aside from a 1500m bronze. She also shone in the 2018 Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast, Australia, winning gold in both 800m and 1500m.

Her most noteworthy achievements, however, have taken place in the biggest sporting event of them all. Semenya is afterall a double Olympic 800m champion, having won gold medals in the 2012 and 2016 editions — although she was upgraded from silver to gold in the former after Russia's Mariya Savinova was found guilty of doping.

However, the accolades she's collected along the way is testament to her athletic skill as well as her fighting spirit, for the journey has been anything but smooth.

Semenya was subject to a gender test by World Athletics (then International Association of Athletics Federations, or IAAF) around the time she was participating in the 2009 worlds, and couldn't compete for almost a year thereafter.

In 2011, World Athletics introduced a set of rules that set a limit to the level of testosterone in female athletes with hyperandrogenism at 10nmol/L. The rule also affected Indian sprinter Dutee Chand in the form of a ban in 2014, which was later overturned by CAS after it suspended the hyperandrogenism rule for a period of two years.

It was however World Athletics's decision to introduce a new testosterone rule in the April 2018 that would change her life, spark a prolonged battle with the world body and lead to the events that culminated in the September ruling.

World Athletics set the permissible limit for testosterone levels in female athletes with Differences in Sex Development (DSD) at 5nmol/L — which was well below what Caster's body produced naturally — with athletes having to maintain those levels for a period of six months before entering a competition. Additionally, the rule was introduced for events ranging from 400 metres to the mile, meaning Semenya would be ineligible to compete in the event in which she had crowned herself the undisputed queen unless she took medication to reduce her levels.

Semenya chose to fight her case instead of accepting the new ruling that would have had major negative consequences in her quest for a third consecutive 800m Olympic gold at Tokyo. She approached CAS against the testosterone rule hopeful of getting a reprieve. The tribunal however rejected her appeal in May last year even though they agreed that the rule was "discriminatory" against DSD athletes.

She still did not give up, and chose to appeal at Switzerland's highest court of justice. And when they, too, delivered a verdict that favoured World Athletics, she sent out a message to the world that she had another fight left in her, announcing her decision to appeal before the European Court of Human Rights.

"I am very disappointed by this ruling, but refuse to let World Athletics drug me or stop me from being who I am. Excluding female athletes or endangering our health solely because of our natural abilities puts World Athletics on the wrong side of history.

"I will continue to fight for the human rights of female athletes, both on the track and off the track, until we can all run free the way we were born," said the champion athlete who made it to Time's list of '100 Most Influential People of 2019' and has since started competing in 200m while fighting her legal battles.

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