IAAF wants Caster to lower her testosterone levels 'for women's sport'

18 February 2019 - 17:46 By Katherine Child
Caster Semenya and her legal tearm are challenging the IAAF's plans to force her to lower her testosterone levels.
Caster Semenya and her legal tearm are challenging the IAAF's plans to force her to lower her testosterone levels.
Image: REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha

As South African hero Caster Semenya's controversial court case kicked off on Monday, the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) argued that their case against her was to ensure the continuation of women's sport.

In a statement issued on Monday – which has been slammed by Semenya's lawyers – the IAAF stated that athletes who "have testes and testosterone levels in the male range" must drop their testosterone levels to the female range if they want to compete as elite female athletes.

Semenya is this week challenging the IAAF regulations at the sport's highest decision-making body, the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) in Lausanne, Switzerland.

The IAAF ruled last year that athletes that are not biologically female but have "differences of sexual development" with very high levels of testosterone must take a medical pill to naturally lower their testosterone to levels of females. The pill is similar to the birth-control pill.

The rule was set to be implemented in November but was postponed until Semenya's case could be heard.

The IAAF said previously that male and female categories in sport existed to ensure that women can compete and are not eclipsed by men due to the advantage that testosterone gives them.

On Monday, the association argued that the rule was to ensure fair competition for all women and to ensure the continuation of women's sport. "Indeed, without it, we risk losing the next generation of female athletes, since they will see no path to success in our sport," said the IAAF in a statement.

"The IAAF believes that equal treatment of men and women is not just a formal requirement of its constitution, but that empowering girls and women through athletics is a core value of the organisation, at the heart of what it believes the sport can offer to participants and to the world.” 

Semenya's legal team - consisting of Canadian lawyers Jim Bunting and Carlos Sayao and her local lawyers from Norton Rose Fulbright, Greg Nott, Patrick Bracher and Sandra Sithole - slammed the IAAF's statement, which they claim breaches the confidentiality rules of the proceedings.

"Semenya believes the IAAF press release is a clear breach of the confidentiality provisions that was orchestrated in an effort to influence public opinion in circumstances where the IAAF knew that Ms Semenya would not be prepared to respond because she was complying with her confidentiality obligations,” said the legal team.

The IAAF also released a list of the names of their expert witnesses. Because of this, Semenya's lawyers have now got permission to release the names of her witnesses on Tuesday "as a matter of fairness".

The IAAF experts include:

  • medical physicist Joanna Harper, a transgender women and amateur athlete who transitioned from a male and claims she became a far slower runner when controlling her testosterone;
  • a professor of obstetrics and gynaecology from the Karolinska Institutet in Sweden;
  • a professor of reproductive endocrinology and andrology at the University of Sydney in Australia;
  • a former athlete and professor of law at Duke Law School in the US; and
  • a professor of pharmacology and internal medicine at the University of Michigan, also in the US.

Meanwhile, the SA Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (SASOG) has lent its support to Semenya.

Gynaecologist and professor Priya Soma-Pillay, spokesperson for SASOG, said: "This proposed treatment is ethically questionable as it not only restricts one’s reproductive choices but may also be harmful, with adverse consequences to quality of life. 

"Any non-medically indicated intervention must be carefully considered. The scientific evidence for its extent and safety must be totally sound and beyond question.”