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South Africa’s 800-metre Olympian Caster Semenya is set to take part in what could be her final race Friday night in Doha, Qatar — that’s if the International Association of Athletics Associations (IAAF) has its way.

The athletics governing body ruled on Wednesday that Semenya has to take medication to reduce her testosterone levels, compete with men, or stop participating in international events.

Semenya has higher levels of testosterone compared to the average in women, and the IAAF has mandated testosterone limits in order to compete. The ruling comes two months after an appeal launched by Semenya to challenge new regulations by the IAAF, stating that athletes with differences of sexual development (DSD) need to regulate their natural hormone levels.

And while IAAF says the new regulations are not targeted at Semenya, many have observed that they are only applicable in 400-metre, 800-metre, and 1,500-metre races — all distances that Semenya runs. The new IAAF policy comes into effect on May 8.

Semenya has never been beaten in the 800-metre race, since her career began in 2015.

The ruling will require her, and other DSD athletes, to take medication for at least six months in the run-up to a race. If this happens, she will be slowed down by seven seconds, according to sports scientist Ross Tucker.

In a statement released by her lawyers after the ruling, Semenya said: “I know that the IAAF’s regulations have always targeted me specifically. For a decade the IAAF has tried to slow me down, but this has actually made me stronger.”

“The decision of the CAS will not hold me back,” she added. “I will once again rise above and continue to inspire young women and athletes in South Africa and around the world.”

Semenya is not alone in her determination to fight the ruling and keep running. South Africans have also rallied behind the champion. An online petition called #HandsOffCaster has been circulating on social media for two months. So far, it has 147,000 signatures. It’s looking to gather 150,000 before being submitted to the IAAF.

“Caster does not decide or control her testosterone levels,” the petition says. “She did not choose to be who she is.” 

Expressing why they’re supporting the petition, signatories have left comments such as: “Penalising people for their differences is called bullying”; “it’s not fair for them [IAFF] to alter someone’s health”; and “she deserves to run in her natural state.”

Meanwhile, the World Medical Association (WMA) has called on doctors from its 114 national member associations to not implement the IAAF’s regulations and says there is “weak evidence” that athletes like Semenya have an unfair advantage over their competitors. The WMA has also called the regulation “unethical.”

In a statement issued via iaaf.org, the IAAF said the ruling is a step in the right direction.

“The IAAF is grateful to the Court of Arbitration for Sport for its detailed and prompt response to the challenge made to its Eligibility Regulations for the Female Classification for athletes with differences of sex development, and is pleased that the regulations were found to be a necessary, reasonable, and proportionate means of achieving the IAAF's legitimate aim of preserving the integrity of female athletics in the Restricted Events.”


Demand Equity

Olympian Caster Semenya Could Race for the Last Time as South Africans Rally Behind Her

By Lerato Mogoatlhe