South African Olympic track star Caster Semenya has lost her challenge to recently enacted rules governing testosterone in female athletes, dealing a major blow to her right to compete in a sport that has increasingly become targeted by transphobic conservatives.
Semenya, who has nabbed two Olympic gold medals as well as a pair of gold medals at the World Championships, decided last year to mount a legal challenge in the Court of Arbitration for Sport after the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) — a governing body in athletics — announced in April of 2018 that there would be new rules requiring women athletes with high levels of testosterone to lower their levels.
Semenya has long been subjected to humiliating, onerous, and highly controversial sex testing dating back to 2009 due to the widely held assumption that she is intersex, compounded by racist slurs regarding her physical appearance. Throughout the challenges she has faced, Semenya has consistently emphasized that her testosterone level is naturally occurring.
If Semenya wishes to compete again under the new rules, she will be required to take medication to lower her testosterone levels. The new rules have been described as a direct attack on Semenya because many of the races affected under the new regulations were ones she is known to compete in, including the 800-meter competition, which she won during the 2012 and 2016 Olympics.
Semenya echoed the view that she is being singled out in a public statement she released after the May 1 ruling.
“I know that the IAAF’s regulations have always targeted me specifically,” Semenya said. “For a decade the IAAF has tried to slow me down, but this has actually made me stronger. The decision of the CAS will not hold me back. I will once again rise above and continue to inspire young women and athletes in South Africa and around the world.”
The bias in the court’s 2-1 ruling was so obvious that the court itself admitted that the ruling was discriminatory — but maintained that such a decision was necessary.
“The panel found 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,” the court noted in a statement.
Following the ruling, former and current athletes as well as key LGBTQ figures voiced support for Semenya. Billie Jean King, the out lesbian former number one women’s tennis star in the world who debunked gender myths of her own when she defeated Bobby Riggs in a 1973 tennis match known as the “Battle of the Sexes,” tweeted, “I am disappointed by today’s decision by the Court of Arbitration for Sports, which will prevent Caster Semenya from competing as her authentic self. [Caster], I stand with you.”
Even Martina Navratilova, the out lesbian tennis star who has made waves in recent months for transphobic comments about how trans women are “cheating” when they compete in women’s sports, called the ruling unfair.
“The verdict against Semenya is dreadfully unfair to her and wrong in principle,” Navratilova said, according to Reuters. “She has done nothing wrong and it is awful that she will now have to take drugs to be able to compete. General rules should not be made from exceptional cases and the question of transgender athletes remains unresolved.”
Though the 28-year-old Semenya’s formal public statement was lengthy, she was much more succinct in a social media post on May 1, writing, “Sometimes it’s better to react with no reaction.”