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Caster Semenya may soon be able to compete in the 800 meters again.

By Chris Chavez
June 03, 2019

The Federal Supreme Court of Switzerland has ordered the IAAF to immediately suspend the implementation of new regulations to limit testosterone levels for athletes with a difference in sex development. While the appeal is pending, Olympic and world champion 800-meter runner Caster Semenya will be allowed to compete in the female category without restrictions at events between 400 meters and the mile without having to take medication to lower her naturally-high levels of testosterone.

"I am thankful to the Swiss judges for this decision," Semenya said in a statement. "I hope that following my appeal I will once again be able to run free."

The IAAF is appealing the Swiss Supreme Court's decision and says the regulations have been suspended until June 25th. The rule suspension applies only for Semenya.

The IAAF issued the following statement:

"The IAAF will continue to fight for equal rights and opportunities for all women and girls in our sport today and in the future. The IAAF is committed to the full participation of women in the sport of athletics, be that as elite female athletes in fair and meaningful competition, as young girls developing life and sport skills, or as administrators or officials. Regrettably, it was not so long ago that women were not permitted to compete in sport at all. There is a lot of work to be done, but we are at the forefront of that work, including being one of the only international sports federations to pay women and men equal prize money. The IAAF fully respects each individual's personal dignity and supports the social movement to have people accepted in society based on their chosen legal sex and/or gender identity. However, the IAAF is convinced there are some contexts, sport being one of them, where biology has to trump identity. The IAAF also believes the right to participate in sport does not translate to a right to self-identify into a competition category or an event, or to insist on inclusion in a preferred event, or to win in a particular event, without regard to the legitimate rules of the sport or the criteria for entry. It is legitimate for all sport in general, and for the IAAF in particular, to create a protected category for females and to base eligibility for this category on biology and not on gender identity. This crucial point was accepted and emphasized by the CAS in its 30 April 2019 decision to uphold the DSD Regulations. To define the category based on something other than biology would be category defeating and would deter many girls around the world from choosing competitive and elite sport after puberty. The IAAF considers that the DSD Regulations are a necessary, reasonable and proportionate means of protecting fair and meaningful competition in elite female athletics, and the CAS agreed. The IAAF will seek a swift reversion of the superprovisional order moving forwards so that the DSD Regulations apply to all affected athletes in order (among other things) to avoid serious confusion amongst athletes and event organizers and to protect the integrity of the sport. In due course, the IAAF will defend its DSD Regulations and the CAS Award in the appeal proceedings before the SFT."

The court says it will issue another ruling on the continued suspension of the regulations after receiving submissions from the IAAF.

The Swiss ruling came in response to a decision made on May 1st by the Court of Arbitration for Sport, who ruled that Semenya and other athletes will have to take medication to reduce their testosterone levels if they want to compete against other women at the international level. CAS believed the rule was "necessary, reasonable and proportionate means of achieving the IAAF's aim of preserving the integrity of female athletics."

Under the new CAS rule, athletes with differences in sexual development will have to keep their testosterone levels under 5 nanomoles per liter. In the IAAF's case, they noted that elite female athletes tend to have natural testosterone levels of approximately .12 to 1.79 nanomoles per liter. If an athlete with naturally higher levels of testosterone opts not to take medication, they will have to race against men or compete in a division against intersex athletes—if that is presented as an option. The rule will impact athletes in events from 400 meters to the mile. Athletes with differences of sexual development will have to undergo a blood test on May 8 to monitor their eligibility for the IAAF World Championships in September or 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, if they wish to compete in those distances. The Swiss court ruling puts the implementation of the new rule on hold. 

Semenya has remained set on her plans to not take any medication to comply with the new rules. Her current race schedule does not include any races in the 400-meter to a mile range. She will be racing in a 2,000-meter race in France on June 11th and in the 3,000 meters at the Prefontaine Classic at Stanford University on June 30th.

Semenya and Olympic silver medalist Francine Niyonsaba of Burundi have come forward as athletes affected by the IAAF ruling. They were the winners of the past 22 Diamond League 800-meter finals but were ineligible to race at last week's meet in Stockholm. As expected, the result was a slow winning time of 2:00.87 by Ajee Wilson of the United States. If Semenya's appeal is unsuccessful, Wilson would be among the favorites for gold at the 2019 IAAF World Championships in September since the South African star would be unable to defend her title from 2017.

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