World Athletics denies new ruling will label athletes like Olympian Caster Semenya as 'biologically male'

The International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) has provoked controversy over plans to argue that South African Olympic gold medal-winning 800m runner Caster Semenya should have to lower her natural testosterone levels in order to compete.

The organization has denied that they plan to classify Semenya as "biologically male," but will argue in the Court of Arbitration for Sport that Semenya's higher levels of testosterone, a result of her hyperandrogenism, give her a chemical and biological advantage over other women in her Olympic categories, BBC reports.

Semenya's sex has been under scrutiny since she burst on the scene at the 2009 IAAF world championships, where she clinched gold in the 800m. For the last 10 years, in what many considered a direct response to her win, she underwent sex testing, fueling rumors that she had intersex characteristics. There has been never been any evidence officially revealed, and the decision to force Semenya to undergo the tests has been labeled racist and sexist by many, including the country of South Africa, who filed a complaint with the United Nations over the testing.

The IAAF said that they are "not classifying" any athlete with "differences of sexual development" (DSD) - of whom South African Semenya is the most notable - as male," they claimed in a statement released on Wednesday.

"To the contrary, we accept their legal sex without question, and permit them to compete in the female category," the statement continued.

"However, 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 hemoglobin 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."


The Court of Arbitration for Sport is due to hear Semenya's case next week in Luasanne, Switzerland

The Court of Arbitration for Sport is due to hear Semenya's case next week in Luasanne, Switzerland (Lukas Schulze/Getty Images for IAAF)

The new rules regarding testosterone levels were intended to take effect on Nov. 1, 2018, but was postponed to March 26, pending the outcome of Semenya and the South Africa Athletics organization's legal challenge.

The rule would be limited to athletes competing in the 400m, 800m, and 1500m sprints, which makes many believe that it was intended to target Semenya specifically. It requires that female athletes keep their testosterone levels below a certain level for at least six months prior to competing - a timeline that would potentially limit Semenya's eligibility to compete in the 2019 World Athletics Championships in September, if her hormone levels were above the imposed limit. Semenya is not the only athlete to challenge the proposed rule - Indian sprinter Dutee Chand has also spoken out about the regulation.


The correlation between heightened testosterone levels and athletic performance itself is not widely documented, but the IAAF claimed earlier this year they had statistical proof of the connection specifically as it pertains to races between 400m and one mile. Sports scientists have criticized the policy, which would force female athletes with higher testosterone levels to take oral tablets, like birth control, as a form of discrimination.

The South African government has vowed to support Semenya through this continued scrutiny.


"Our stance has always been that someone like Caster who has never injected anything in her body must be allowed to compete‚” South African Sports Minister's spokesperson Vuyo Mhaga told the Sunday Times. “Caster is a person who was born the way she is and and there was never at any stage in her life where she said she was a man."

The Court of Arbitration for Sport is due to hear Semenya's case next week in Switzerland.

Semenya, a two-time Olympic champion and three-time world champion, more than anything, just wants to compete.

"It is not fair. I just want to run naturally, the way I was born," she said last year.

"I am Mokgadi Caster Semenya. I am a woman and I am fast."