In a Devastating Blow to Human Rights, Semenya Loses Appeal on Testosterone Rule

September 9, 2020 (New York, NY) — Athlete Ally responded today to the devastating news that South African Olympian Caster Semenya has lost her appeal against World Athletics’ (formerly the International Association of Athletics Federations, or IAAF) discriminatory regulation on female athletes with naturally occurring testosterone. As a result, Semenya will not be able to compete in her preferred event, the 800-meter, unless she agrees to lower her testosterone levels through medication or surgery. She will also be unable to defend her Olympic 800 meter title at the Tokyo Olympics.

When it was first introduced, the World Athletics regulation was met by global outrage by athletes including Semenya, and by an open letter to World Athletics by Athlete Ally and the Women’s Sports Foundation signed by athletes from around the world including Billie Jean King, Abby Wambach and Megan Rapinoe.

“Forcing athletes to undergo medically unnecessary interventions based on contested science in order to participate in the sport they have dedicated their lives to is cruel and a violation of their rights,” said Anne Lieberman, Director of Policy & Programs for Athlete Ally. “We will continue to fight dehumanizing regulations like this to ensure that discrimination does not stand in the way of athletes’ ability to compete.”

“This decision deals a serious blow to the human rights of women athletes,” said Dr. Katrina Karkazis, a professor and co-author of Testosterone: An Unauthorized Biography, who also served as a contributor to Semenya’s case and as an expert witness for Dutee Chand’s successful appeal at the Court of Arbitration for Sport of an almost identical testosterone regulation several years prior. “Fully acknowledging that medically unnecessary interventions to lower testosterone ‘represent a considerable interference with physical integrity,’ the court nevertheless decided that the regulations should stand. This is in direct contradiction to the World Medical Association and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) of the United Nations that recommended World Athletics revoke its regulations because they risk violating medical ethics, and multiple human rights including the right to dignity, bodily integrity and bodily autonomy, among many others. The most important finding of that OHCHR report, that ‘women and girl athletes may face serious obstacles to accessing effective remedies and seeking full redress for violations of their human rights,’ is only made more obvious and urgent by this decision.”