Caster Semenya Q&A: Who is she; what is DSD; why is her case important?

Semenya is the fourth fastest woman of all time over 400m

Potentially one of the most pivotal moments in modern sport will occur not on a track, pitch or court, but in a plush office building in the Swiss city of Lausanne on Wednesday.

The Court of Arbitration in Sport (Cas) is expected to announce a verdict on one of athletics’ biggest names – South Africa’s Caster Semenya – and her right to compete as a woman.

Who is Caster Semenya?

Caster Semenya is one of the most dominant stars of modern athletics.

A double Olympic gold medallist and three-time world champion over 800m, the 28-year-old South African has won her past 29 races over the distance.

However, since her meteoric rise from unknown teenager to world champion in 2009, her gender, and possible advantages in her biology, have come under scrutiny.

The results of gender testing carried out 10 years ago have not been made public, although media reports claimed it showed both male and female characteristics including a higher-than-normal level of testosterone.

Semenya wins 800m gold as Sharp comes eighth

The International Association of Athletics Federations, which runs the sport, proposed a rule to restrict the level of testosterone permitted in female runners in events between 400m and a mile.

Semenya is challenging the proposal in the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

A verdict is expected on Wednesday, 1 May, about 12:00 BST.

What are disorders/differences of sex development (DSD)?

People with a DSD do not develop along typical gender lines.

Their hormones, genes, reproductive organs may be a mix of male and female characteristics.

The term “disorders” is controversial with some of those affected preferring the term “intersex” and referring to “differences in sex development”.

What next after diagnosis?

Most people with a DSD stay with the gender they were assigned as a baby. However others, who feel their assigned gender doesn’t represent who they are, may choose to change their gender.

People with a DSD may be infertile and need hormone therapy and psychological support to help them come to terms with their condition.

What about elite athletes like Semenya?

Research commissioned by the IAAF showed in 2017 that female athletes with elevated testosterone had “a competitive advantage”, claiming that high testosterone was responsible for as much as 3% improvement in runners.

However those findings have been contested by Semenya and her team.

Caster Semenya: The full interview

They claim that it is not clear how much DSD athletes benefit from their naturally higher levels of testosterone.

During the early ’90s, Spanish hurdler Maria Jose Martinez-Patino successfully fought against a ban imposed after she was discovered to have XY chromosomes typically seen in men.

She demonstrated that her condition made her insensitive to the ‘excess’ testosterone in her blood.

Why is Semenya’s case so important?

Sport has traditionally been divided into male and female categories, but Semenya’s case and the science it has brought to the fore shows it may be an artificially binary distinction.

It has been suggested that, if the verdict goes against the IAAF, athletics might introduce an ‘open’ category that men and women could, in theory, compete in side by side, and a ‘protected’ category based on hormone levels, rather than gender.

Might Paralympic-style categories be introduced?

And what would be the ripple effect on other sports?

This is not a case about transgender. But one of the questions it raises is that transgender athletes – who have transitioned from one gender to another – might ask why they are obliged to alter their hormone levels when DSD athletes are free to compete without doing so.

And what about the future for Semenya if she loses the case and the IAAF’s hormone limits come into force?

A leading sport scientist has suggested she would be five to seven seconds slower over 800m if she reduces her testosterone in line with the proposed limits.

She could revert to a longer distance. She has run the 5,000m twice this season, winning on each occasion.

What they have said – the key quotes so far

IAAF president Lord Sebastian Coe: “No individual athlete has been targeted in the creation of the regulations.

“We need to create competition categories within our sport that ensures that success is determined by talent, dedication and hard work, rather than by other factors that are not considered fair or meaningful, such as the enormous physical advantages that an adult has over a child, or a male athlete has over a female athlete.”

Semenya: “I just want to run naturally, the way I was born.”

IAAF statement in February: “If a DSD athlete has testes and male levels of testosterone, they get the same increases in bone and muscle size and strength and increases in haemoglobin that a male gets when they go through puberty, which is what gives men such a performance advantage over women.

“Therefore, to preserve fair competition in the female category, it is necessary to require DSD athletes to reduce their testosterone down to female levels before they compete at international level.”

Former marathon world champion Paula Radcliffe: “There isn’t a fair answer – there’s no solution that is fair to everybody. It’s just trying to make fairness out of a situation that is pretty much impossible.”

South African Olympic 400m champion Wayde van Niekerk: “Caster is fighting for something beyond just track and field; she’s fighting for women in sports [and] in society.”

The United Nations Human Rights Council said that sporting bodies should “refrain from developing and enforcing policies and practices that force, coerce or otherwise pressure women and girl athletes into undergoing unnecessary, humiliating and harmful medical procedures in order to participate in women’s events in competitive sports”.


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Publish date : 2019-04-30 22:56:01

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