July 17, 2019

Track Officials Called Caster Semenya ‘Biologically Male,’ Newly Released Documents Show

Track Officials Called Caster Semenya ‘Biologically Male,’ Newly Released Documents Show


The governing body of track argued in court that the Olympic champion Caster Semenya is “biologically male” and said that is why she should reduce her natural testosterone to be allowed to run in certain women’s races, according to documents released publicly for the first time on Tuesday and which provide new insight into a bitter legal battle.

The documents released by sport’s highest court show that Semenya responded by telling the judges that being described as biologically male “hurts more than I can put in words.” Semenya, a 28-year-old South African runner, said she was unable to express how insulted she felt at the International Association of Athletics Federations “telling me that I am not a woman.”

The I.A.A.F.’s stance on Semenya and other female athletes affected by its new testosterone regulations — and Semenya’s outrage at the biological male claim — was revealed in a 163-page decision published by the Switzerland-based Court of Arbitration for Sport. It details parts of the courtroom exchanges that occurred when Semenya challenged the I.A.A.F. over the contentious hormone rules in a five-day hearing in February. The arbitration court had released only short excerpts from the final verdict when it was announced last month.

Tuesday’s fuller records, which were still redacted, show that the I.A.A.F. referred to Semenya, a two-time Olympic and three-time world champion, as one of a number of “biologically male athletes with female gender identities.”

Arguing that Semenya and others like her should be subject to its hormone limits to ensure fairness in female competitions, the I.A.A.F. said, “There are some contexts where biology has to trump identity.”

Semenya was legally identified as female at birth and has identified as female her whole life. But the I.A.A.F. says she is one of a number of female runners in elite athletics who have medical conditions known as “differences of sex development” and who were born with the typical male XY chromosome pattern. That gives them some male biological characteristics, male levels of the hormone testosterone after puberty, and an unfair advantage over other female athletes, the I.A.A.F. says.

Semenya, who has been fighting the I.A.A.F. ever since she was embroiled in a gender verification test at the world championships 10 years ago, says the rules should be discarded and she should be allowed to run in her natural form. She disputes that she has a significant performance advantage.

The I.A.A.F. won the recent case at the arbitration court by a 2-1 majority of the panel of judges, allowing it to implement the testosterone limits.

Semenya appealed the verdict to Switzerland’s supreme court on human rights grounds. She won an interim ruling to temporarily suspend the hormone regulations and the Swiss supreme court will hear her full appeal.

The rules only apply to certain races, from 400 meters to one mile, but they include Semenya’s specialist two-lap event.

To be allowed to compete under the rules, Semenya and other affected athletes must medically reduce their testosterone to below a specific threshold set by the I.A.A.F., which gives three options to do that: A daily contraceptive pill, a monthly hormone-blocking injection, or surgery.

The medical process has been criticized as unethical by experts and Semenya has refused to take medication to alter what she calls her genetic gifts.

The documents released Tuesday shone a light on some of the details of the battle between Semenya and the I.A.A.F., much of which Semenya hadn’t publicly spoken about.

Semenya said in witness statements that she had been subjected to gender verification tests that included an intrusive physical examination ordered by South African track authorities in the buildup to the 2009 world championships, when she was 18.

After her breakthrough victory at those championships in Berlin, Semenya said she was taken to a hospital where the I.A.A.F. conducted another test on her. “It was an order by the I.A.A.F. which I had no choice but to comply with,” she said.

She described the world championships and the public speculation that erupted over her gender as “the most profound and humiliating experience of my life.”

Semenya also described a period from 2010-15 where she reluctantly agreed to take testosterone-suppressing contraceptives recommended by the I.A.A.F. so she could keep running.

She said they caused significant weight gain, made her feel sick, and led to fevers and abdominal pain. She maintained the I.A.A.F. had used her as a “lab rat” as it experimented with a medical process it would later introduce as part of its testosterone rules. In a statement Tuesday, Semenya said, “I will not allow the I.A.A.F. to use me and my body again.”



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