Caster Semenya ruling: “Forcing her to undergo medical intervention to compete is a devastating and humiliating push back against her human rights”


Geneva, 4 May 2019 –The Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) upheld the 2018 IAAF regulation that made Olympic and World Champion Caster Semenya eligible to compete against other women only if agreeing to medically alter her body.

The ruling also applies to other female runners with naturally high testosterone levels who are racing in track events from 400 meters up to the mile.

“The Panel found that the DSD Regulations are discriminatory”, the ruling reads, “but the majority of the Panel found that (…) such discrimination is a necessary, reasonable and proportionate means of achieving the IAAF’s aim of preserving the integrity of female athletics in the Restricted Events.”

The decision to discriminate against Caster Semenya by claiming it was necessary is not only extremely disappointing, but also very dangerous. Caster Semenya is a strong, healthy, athletic, black woman.  She was born and raised as female, she has never taken any performance enhancing substances, and forcing her to undergo medical intervention to allow her to compete is humiliating, unnecessary, unfair, dangerous and contrary to her human rights.

Tony Briffa, Chair of ILGA World’s Intersex Steering Committee

This decision singles out Semenya and other women like her in a way that other athletes born with biological variations - such as Michael Phelps' 203cm wingspan and Ian Thorpe’s size 17 feet, to name a few – have never experienced, nor they were ever asked to have their natural biological characteristics altered to reduce any advantage that they might get from it.
The decision”, continues Briffa, “also perpetuates the discrimination, forced medical intervention, stigma and injustice that many people born with variations of sex characteristics have been subjected to for decades.” 

A few weeks ago, the UN Human Rights Council passed a resolution – an historic first - recognising the multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination that women and girls face in sports settings, because of their race and sex, and the right to bodily integrity and autonomy.

Sport should be inclusive and welcoming to all people, based on who they are and in all their diversity. Sporting bodies need to find a better way to ensure fair competition in women’s events, without singling out some women based on an outdated understanding of what makes a woman. Testosterone levels are a crude way to determine the competitive advantage of any athlete.

Zhan Chiam, ILGA World

Dutee Chand from India and Caster Semenya from South Africa have recently been the subjects of sex-testing by the IAAF. Successful women athletes from the Global South, not just Chand and Semenya, are regularly under scrutiny for their performance and gender presentation.  Not only is the ruling a major blow to women's sport: it also brings sexism, racism and classism to the forefront of the conversation.

ILGA World joins advocates across the globe in calling on the International Association of Athletics Federation to abandon these discriminatory regulations.

We remain committed to ensuring that intersex people can live in a world that understands, accepts and celebrates people born with all types of biological variations, rather than perpetuating discrimination against them. We cannot help but view this decision as an attack on intersex women, specifically women of colour athletes from the Global South.

Tuisina Ymania Brown and Luz Elena Aranda, Co-Secretaries General of ILGA World


photo: Flickr / Jon Connell (CC BY-NC 2.0)

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