GDX Statement on caster semenya
From Olympic 800m gold medalist to
JVW Football Club Soccer Player
Caster Semenya with Janine van Wyk
At just 28-years-old, Caster Semenya has built an impressive professional career as a middle-distance runner. She is a two-time Olympic 800m gold medalist and has also won gold for 800m at the World Championships in 2009, 2011, and 2017 (Zraick, 2019). Although her athletic accomplishments are nothing short of extraordinary, the spotlight on Semenya has shifted towards focusing on her sex and physical characteristics.
In 2018, the International Association of Athletics Federation (IAAF) announced a testosterone level limit for female athletes competing in events ranging from 400m to a mile. The new ruling affects Semenya and other female athletes born intersex, requiring them to reduce their natural testosterone levels to below 5nmol/L (International Association of Athletics Federation, 2019). If a female athlete refuses to undergo this process, they are unable to compete or are expected to compete against other males. These regulations target intersex female athletes and imply that only females born with XX chromosomes are “real women”. However, the IAAF argues that intersex females with a 46 XY genetic make-up have an unfair advantage competing against other women (International Association for Athletics Federation, 2019). The IAAF claims this new rule will create a level playing field, yet, one is left wondering where the rules are for other genetic factors such as height and body physique that may also give athletes a competitive advantage? It is clear that this regulation simply serves to reinforce the gender binary and societies narrow expectations of men and women.
Semenya has fought back, challenging this new ruling in the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) arguing it is unethical and against her human rights. Since birth, Semenya has been raised, socialized, and has identified as a female. Semenya stands by her decision of choosing not to undergo hormone therapy to lower her natural testosterone levels and thus, has been unable to compete. Forcing an intersex athlete to take medication for the purpose of lowering their bodies natural hormone level is not only unnecessary, but unethical. Unfortunately, in Semenya’s case against IAAF, CAS rejected the appeal, stating that it recognizes that the new regulations are discriminatory but, “such discrimination is necessary, reasonable, and proportionate means of achieving the IAAF’s aim of ensuring fair competition in female athletic events” (International Association of Athletics Federation, 2019). Essentially, the ruling made by CAS attempts to justify discrimination against a minority as long as it benefits the majority. This verdict is disappointing as it neglects the human rights to bodily integrity and dignity for intersex women. It is simple, intersex women deserve to have their human rights respected in the same way that all women do.
Unfortunately, due to the recent ruling, Semenya will be unable to defend her title at the World Championships in Doha this September. Since then, Semenya announced she has signed with the JVW Football Club (Dutch, 2019). Semenya released a statement on social media explaining, “being a footballer doesn’t mean I’m no longer a track and field athlete. Just making things clear” (Nkanjeni, 2019). It is important to recognize that no matter how this announcement is painted, Semenya’s decision to join JVW Football Club is a direct result of being discriminated against in the athletic community she loves and dominates in.
Dutch, T. (2019, September 6). 800-meter champion Caster Semenya joins soccer club in South Africa. Runner’s World. Retrieved from https://www.runnersworld.com/news/a28942858/caster-semenya-joins-soccer-team/
International Association of Athletics Federation (2019, May 7). IAAF publishes briefing notes and Q&A on female eligibility regulations [Press release]. Retrieved from https://www.iaaf.org/news/press-release/questions-answers-iaaf-female-eligibility-reg
Nkanjeni, U. (2019, September 9). Caster Semenya turns to soccer, says it doesn’t mean she ain’t a runner. Times Live. Retrieved from
Zraick, K. (2019, May 1). Caster Semenya, hero in South Africa, fights hormone testing on a global stage. The New York Times. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/