Olympic Champion Caster Semenya has endured a considerable amount of attention for the entirety of her career as a talented 800m runner. The International Association of Athletes Federation (IAAF) seeks to have women with naturally elevated testosterone levels to lower their level of this hormone prior to competing with the use of medication. The IAAF aims to implement this rule for women competing at a world-class level in event distances ranging 400m to 1-mile. A panel will be assembled in three weeks to determine if these higher levels of testosterone significantly impact athletic performance, and Semenya looks forward to sharing her voice at the upcoming hearing.
“She asks that she be respected and treated as any other athlete: Her genetic gift should be celebrated, not discriminated against.”Semenya’s lawyer about her response to the IAAF’s upcoming hearing, 2019
This is not the first encounter Semenya has had with the IAAF regarding questions about her hormone levels in relation to her athletic success. This frequent gold-medalist was subjected to worldwide scrutiny about her gender in 2009, when she scored the top position at the world championship held in Berlin. The IAAF revealed that Semenya had undergone gender verification while at home in South Africa, and during the competition held in Berlin. Concerns regarding Semenya’s androgynous appearance have followed the length of her career, sparking interesting conversation about when gender testing methods are to be used and their diverse implications.
Perhaps it was Semenya’s lack of projection of femininity in sport that had the IAAF question the reasoning behind her success. Unless there is reason to speculate, gender verification has not been mandatory since 1999 when the IOC followed suit of the IAAF and removed the requirement for blanket testing. The following weeks will determine whether female athletes with high testosterone levels similar to Semenya will need to be medicated for six months prior to their competing, or whether the rule will be overturned. This decision will have implications on all female athletes, and the measures they must take to participate in their sport.
Featured image: Semenya celebrates her gold medal victory at the Commonwealth Games in 2018