South African athlete was discriminated against by rules that forced her to lower her testosterone levels, according to a judgement from the ECHR
The European Court of Human Rights has ruled in favour of Caster Semenya in her appeal against World Athletics’ rules relating to testosterone levels.
Semenya has been unable to compete at her best distance of 800m since the introduction of limits by the global governing body on testosterone levels which would have forced her to use medication. Legal challenges in the past to the Court of Arbitration for Sport and the Swiss Federal Supreme Court were rejected, but the ECHR says her human rights have been violated.
The 32-year-old was born with differences of sexual development and is not allowed to compete in events between 400m and the mile without taking drugs that reduce her testosterone levels.
In a judgement published on Tuesday (July 11), the ECHR found the Swiss government did not protect the athlete from being discriminated against when its Supreme Court refused to overturn a decision by the Court of Arbitration for Sport which upheld World Athletics’ rules governing the participation of athletes with DSD.
The 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.”
Semenya argued that taking medication could put her health in danger and that the ruling, which prevented her defending her Olympic 800m title in 2021, denied athletes with DSD the right to rely on their natural abilities.
World Athletics says in reaction to the decision that its rules will remain in place, although the ECHR’s decision could force CAS and World Athletics to re-examine the regulations.
In a statement, the global governing body said: World Athletics notes the judgement of the deeply divided Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR). 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.
“The case was filed against the state of Switzerland, rather than World Athletics. We will liaise with the Swiss Government on the next steps and, given the strong dissenting views in the decision, we will be encouraging them to seek referral of the case to the ECHR Grand Chamber for a final and definitive decision. In the meantime, the current DSD regulations, approved by the World Athletics Council in March 2023, will remain in place.”
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