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Caster Semenya wins appeal at European Court of Human Rights

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Double Olympic 800m champion Caster Semenya was discriminated against by rules forcing her to lower her testosterone levels in order to compete, the European Court of Human Rights has found.

The 32-year-old South African was born with differences of sexual development (DSD) and is not allowed to compete in any track events without taking testosterone-reducing drugs.

On Tuesday the ECHR ruled in favour of Semenya in a case involving testosterone levels in female athletes.

A three-time 800m world champion and 800m and 1500m Commonwealth champion, Semenya has been in a long-running dispute with World Athletics since regulations requiring her to have hormone treatment were introduced by the governing body in 2018.

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She has twice failed in legal battles to overturn the decision.

The case at the ECHR was against the government of Switzerland for not protecting Semenya’s rights and dates back to a Swiss Supreme Court ruling three years ago.

In a lengthy judgement published on Tuesday, the ECHR found the Swiss government did not protect Semenya from being discriminated against when its Supreme Court refused to overturn a decision by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (Cas), which upheld the World Athletics rules.

An ECHR statement read: “The court found in particular that the applicant had not been afforded sufficient institutional and procedural safeguards in Switzerland to allow her to have her complaints examined effectively, especially since her complaints concerned substantiated and credible claims of discrimination as a result of her increased testosterone level caused by differences of sex development.”

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It was also found that World Athletics’ DSD regulations were “a source of discrimination” for Semenya “by the manner in which they were exercised and by their effects”, and the regulations were “incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights”.

The decision, made by a panel of seven people at the ECHR, was split 4-3 in favour of Semenya and may allow her to challenge the Swiss Supreme Court or Cas rulings.

World Athletics described the ECHR chamber as “deeply divided” and said it will ask the Swiss government to refer the case to the ECHR Grand Chamber for a “final and definitive decision”.

World Athletics said: “We remain of the view that the DSD regulations are a necessary, reasonable and proportionate means of protecting fair competition in the female category as the Court of Arbitration for Sport and Swiss Federal Tribunal both found, after a detailed and expert assessment of the evidence.

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“We will liaise with the Swiss government on the next steps. In the meantime, the current DSD regulations, approved by the World Athletics Council in March 2023, will remain in place.”

Under regulations introduced in 2018, athletes with DSD were only allowed to compete in track events between 400m and the mile if they reduced their testosterone levels.

However, in March World Athletics ruled that DSD athletes must now have hormone-suppressing treatment for six months before being eligible to compete in all events.

Semenya ran in the 5,000m at last year’s World Championships in Oregon but failed to qualify for the final.

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She has argued that taking testosterone-reducing medication could endanger her health and that the ruling denied her and other athletes with DSD the right to rely on their natural abilities.

Because of the ruling, she could not defend her 800m title at the Tokyo Olympics, which took place a year later than planned in 2021.

Semenya, who has always been legally identified as female, has said she should be able to compete in women’s events even if her testosterone levels are higher than her competitors.

In 2019 she told BBC Sport she had been “crucified” but will “never stop fighting” against the regulations brought in by World Athletics, then known as the IAAF.

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SOURCE: BBC

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