Semenya wins appeal case in European court


South Africa’s Olympic 800 m champion, Caster Semenya, won her appeal case in the European Court of Human Rights on Tuesday. Semenya disputed the issue of whether her rights had been violated regarding a requirement that women with high testosterone levels be obliged to lower these levels with the use of medication.

The 32-year-old Semenya refuses to use medication that lowers her testosterone levels, as required by World Athletics.

The three-time world champion in middle distance races is classified as a DSD athlete, i.e. an athlete with “differences in sexual development”.

In February 2021, Semenya went to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France, to challenge World Athletics’ regulations that require her to undergo hormone treatment before she can compete in international events.

She appealed to the Court of Arbitration for Sport in Lausanne, Switzerland, after which the Swiss Supreme Court upheld the decision of sport’s highest court.

She then turned to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France.

This court found in its judgment on Tuesday that Semenya was not granted sufficient institutional and procedural safeguards in Switzerland to allow her to have her complaints properly investigated.

Semenya’s victory is largely symbolic as it does not challenge the decision by World Athletics nor does it pave the way for her to return to the 800m competition.

Semenya won a gold medal at the 2012 Olympic Games in London and the 2016 Games in Rio.

World Athletics said in a statement that it sticks to its regulations.

“We remain of the opinion that the DSD regulations are a necessary, reasonable and proportionate way of protecting fair competition in the women’s category of sport, as the Court of Arbitration for Sport and the Swiss Federal Supreme Court both found, after a detailed and expert assessment of the evidence,” says this international body.

World Athletics introduced the DSD regulations to create a level playing field in events ranging from 400m to one mile. Semenya was forced to move up to the 5,000 m, a distance in which she could not reach the final in last year’s world championship series in Eugene in America.

In March this year, the federation amended the rules. DSD athletes must now reduce their blood testosterone to below 2.5 nanomoles per liter, down from the previous level of 5 nanomoles per liter, and remain below this threshold for two years.

World Athletics has also removed the principle of limited events for DSD athletes, meaning that regulations now cover all distances rather than those previously monitored.

On 11 October 2021, the South African Human Rights Commission (HRC) submitted its submission as a third acceding party to the European Court of Human Rights in the Semenya issue.

“This is the first time that the commission is involved in human rights litigation at an international forum. The involvement is therefore an important milestone in the HRC’s work in relation to gender equality,” says Wisani Baloyi, spokesperson for the HRC.

“The commission decided to intervene in the case to highlight the adverse effects of the DSD regulations on women. The commission showed the discriminatory effects of the regulations on the transitional grounds of race and gender.”