Semenya athletics testosterone drama angers S.Africa


South Africa's Caster Semenya waits for the start of the semi-final of the women's 800m ...
South Africa's Caster Semenya waits for the start of the semi-final of the women's 800m athletics event at the 2017 IAAF World Championships at the London Stadium in London on August 11, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / Glyn KIRK

In Summary

  • Anger is mounting in South Africa over new athletics rules prescribing maximum testosterone levels in female competitors.
  •  The move is widely seen as targeting the country's Olympic champion Caster Semenya.
  •  From November 1, athletes classified as "hyper-androginous" will have to chemically lower their testosterone levels to just 5 nanomoles per litre of blood.

Anger is mounting in South Africa over new athletics rules prescribing maximum testosterone levels in female competitors.

The move is widely seen as targeting the country’s Olympic champion Caster Semenya.

From November 1, athletes classified as “hyper-androginous” will have to chemically lower their testosterone levels to just 5 nanomoles per litre of blood.

The requirement is what will determine eligibility to run any international race of 400 metres up to the mile.

Anger is mounting in South Africa over new athletics rules prescribing maximum testosterone levels in female competitors widely seen as targeting the country’s Olympic champion Caster Semenya.

Her supporters at home and abroad have denounced the International Association of Athletics Federations’ (IAAF) new policies.

They say it targets women who naturally produce unusually high levels of testosterone of being “sexist”, “racist”, “homophobic”, “dehumanising” and “humiliating”.

From November 1, athletes classified as “hyper-androginous” will have to chemically lower their testosterone levels to just 5 nanomoles per litre of blood to be eligible to run any international race of 400 metres up to the mile.

The IAAF has defended the rule change as scientifically sound.

According to a study financed by the IAAF, high testosterone levels in some athletes gives them a “significant” advantage in certain competitions.

The first athlete to be affected by the change is double Olympic 800 metres champion Semenya — who also runs the 1,500 metres.

The IAAF insists that the new rules “are about levelling the playing field to ensure fair and meaningful competition in the sport”.

“The regulations are solely to ensure fair and meaningful competition within the female classification for the benefit of the broad class of female athletes,” said the IAAF in a statement.

But the decision has provoked an explosion of anger.

South African law professor Steve Cornelius described it as “ostracising certain individuals, all of them female, for no reason other than being what they were born to be” in a stinging letter resigning from the IAAF’s disciplinary tribunal.

– ‘I accept myself’ –

“I cannot in good conscience continue to associate myself with an organisation which insists on… female classification (that) is based on the same kind of ideology that has led to some of the worst injustices and atrocities,” he wrote to IAAF president Sebastian Coe.

South African sprinter L.J. van Zyl told AFP that the decision was “unfair because there are only certain events that are targeted”.

Canadian Olympic wrestler Erica Wiebe tweeted that “I believe in #fairsport, #cleansport and #sportsocialchange but I don’t believe in policing women’s participation in sport because they don’t fit within Western conventions of femininity. C’mon” IAAF.

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