The World of International Organizations Explained

IAAF defends rules on intersex athletes

Caster Semenya after winning an Olympic silver medal in 800 meters in 2012 (ARÊTE/Ghar El Melh)

GENEVA — The governing body of track and field on Wednesday welcomed a decision from Switzerland’s highest court that two-time Olympic gold medalist Caster Semenya must follow new rules meant to lower naturally high testosterone levels in female runners with an intersex condition.

“This decision creates much needed parity and clarity for all athletes as they prepare for the World Championships in Doha this September,” the Monaco-based International Association of Athletics Federations, or IAAF, in a statement.

In May, the Court of Arbitration for Sport, or CAS, in Lausanne, Switzerland, upheld the governing body of track and field’s controversial rules for women who naturally produce high levels of testosterone — despite calling them discriminatory. The world’s top sports court, which falls under the jurisdiction of Switzerland’s top court, decided that Semenya, a middle-distance runner, must use medications that suppress her testosterone output to continue competing. Semenya appealed the decision.

The Swiss Federal Supreme Court ruled on Monday that Semenya must immediately submit to new rules from IAAF. The new rules prevent her from defending her world title in the 800 meters at the world championships in Qatar in September — unless she submits to them.

IAAF vowed to “maintain its position that there are some contexts, sport being one of them, where biology has to trump gender identity, which is why the IAAF believes (and the CAS agreed) that the DSD Regulations are a necessary, reasonable and proportionate means of protecting fair and meaningful competition in elite female athletics.”

The 28-year-old South African athlete has steadfastly refused to undergo hormone therapy to compete in women’s track events. “I am a woman and I am a world-class athlete. The IAAF will not drug me or stop me from being who I am,” Semenya said while appealing the CAS ruling in May.

But IAAF’s new rules have wider implications for women’s sports: all female track athletes with naturally high levels of testosterone will have to lower the hormone in their bodies if they want to compete at the Olympic Games and other major competitions.

The debate underscores how the traditional line in competitive sports between women’s and men’s competitions runs counter to the modern easing of gender definitions and tolerance of ambiguities.

Switzerland’s Federal Supreme Court had suspended the new rules last month, allowing Semenya to keep competing without have to take medication that would lower her testosterone levels. But the latest ruling by the Swiss Federal Supreme Court restores the new rules from the International Association of Athletics Federations, or IAAF.

“I am very disappointed to be kept from defending my hard-earned title, but this will not deter me from continuing my fight for the human rights of all of the female athletes concerned,” Semenya said in a statement.

“First chapter of my life done, looking forward to my second chapter,” she said on Twitter.

Her lawyer, Dorothee Schramm, said the legal fight was not over. “The IAAF regulations violate the most fundamental principles of Swiss public policy,” Schramm said on Facebook. “In the race for justice, human rights must win over sporting interests.”

The world of international organizations explained.


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