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Olympic Champion Loses Appeal of New Testosterone Limits for Athletes in Female Competitions

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Olympic champion Caster Semenya lost an appeal Wednesday against rules governing unusually high testosterone in runners competing in women’s races, meaning Semenya and others will have to take medication to suppress their levels of the male sex hormone if they want to compete in certain events.

In a landmark 2-1 ruling, the highest court in world sports said the proposed rules from track’s governing body, the International Amateur Athletic Federation, are discriminatory, but “such discrimination is a necessary, reasonable and proportionate means” of “preserving the integrity of female athletics.”

The IAAF argued that unusually high, naturally occurring levels of testosterone in athletes like Semenya with “intersex” conditions that don’t conform to standard definitions of male and female give them an unfair competitive advantage, and it decreed a maximum for those in female competitions.

The two-time Olympic champion in the 800 meters, whose sculpted biceps and super-fast times have led others to question those accomplishments, issued a statement in response to the ruling by the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

“I know that the IAAF’s regulations have always targeted me specifically,” Semenya said. “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. I will once again rise above and continue to inspire young women and athletes in South Africa and around the world.”

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The 28-year-old South African runner will have to have lower testosterone levels in order to defend the world title in September in Doha, Qatar.

Semenya was traveling to Doha on Wednesday for the first Diamond League track meet of the season and was expected to race in the 800 on Friday. The Diamond League is an annual series of meets for the top athletes in the world, and the event is the last one before the new rules apply.

Testosterone is a hormone that strengthens muscle tone and bone mass. Because of that, it is against the rules for athletes to inject or swallow testosterone supplements. Some women have what is known as hyperandrogenism, meaning they have naturally occurring levels that are unusually high.

The IAAF rules require competitors in women’s events to lower their levels below 5 nanomoles per liter of blood. According to the IAAF, most females, including elite athletes, have levels of testosterone circulating naturally in their bodies of 0.12 to 1.79 nanomoles per liter, while men have levels that can be dozens or even hundreds of times higher — typically 7.7 to 29.4.

Semenya’s level is considered private medical information and has not been disclosed.

The South African Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee decried the ruling, saying, “We maintain that the rules are ill-thought and will be a source of distress for the targeted female athletes.”

“This decision marks a massive turning point as it now redefines what a female athlete in particular is,” said Natalie du Toit, head of the organization’s athletes commission, adding: “Knowing Caster and the hard work she has put into her sport, we support all her endeavors, and we are all behind her.”

The IAAF went into the case arguing that runners with high testosterone have an unfair advantage in women’s events from 400 meters to the mile. However, the court suggested that the IAAF apply the rules only up to the 800 because the evidence was not clear that women with hyperandrogenism have an edge in the 1,500 meters.

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That could give Semenya a route to compete at the world championships without taking medication, such as birth control pills.

A further appeal is possible to Switzerland’s Supreme Court in Lausanne, but judges rarely overturn decisions of the world sports court.

The scrutiny of Semenya’s muscular body has cast doubt on the integrity of the South African’s achievements for many years. As a teenager in 2009, Semenya won a world title in Berlin. Hours before the race, the IAAF had asked for Semenya to undergo a gender verification test.

Semenya’s case was the second attempt by the IAAF to regulate such athletes. In 2015, a panel including two of the same judges who heard Semenya’s case suspended the IAAF’s first attempt in an appeal brought by Indian sprinter Dutee Chand.

The judges four years ago said the IAAF did not prove hyperandrogenic women gained a significant advantage and invited the governing body to submit new evidence. The IAAF produced a fresh scientific study.

Semenya is not the only athlete with high natural levels of testosterone but has become an unwilling face of the issue. Two weeks ago, Olympic silver medalist Francine Niyonsaba of Burundi confirmed having the same hyperandrogenism as 800 rival Semenya.

Referring to the rule, Niyonsaba said: “For me, it’s about discrimination. It doesn’t make sense. I didn’t choose to be born like this. What am I? I’m created by God.”

At the 2016 Rio Olympics, Semenya and Chand were publicly identified as women with high testosterone, but other athletes implied that other runners, including medalists in the 800 meters, also had elevated levels.

“I think that we need separate events for them and for us,” said Nataliia Lupu of Ukraine said after running against Semenya. “You can see that it’s easy for them.” Semenya will “definitely win against us, even without using her full strength.”

The Western Journal has reviewed this Associated Press story and may have altered it prior to publication to ensure that it meets our editorial standards.

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