Olympic gold medalist Caster Semenya, a middle-distance runner from South Africa, finds herself entangled in a protracted battle for the right to compete at the elite level. Despite winning two Olympic golds and four World Championships podium finishes, Semenya’s career took an abrupt turn in 2019 when World Athletics implemented a policy requiring women with elevated testosterone levels, like Semenya, to undergo medication suppressing the hormone to participate in races between 400 meters and one mile.
Semenya initially adhered to the policy, taking the prescribed medication for a period, but eventually halted, describing the experience as “torturous” for her body. This decision led to a legal confrontation with World Athletics, beginning in 2018 and culminating in three appeals, the latest of which she won in July. However, her triumph doesn’t guarantee a return to compete, as the European Court of Human Rights’ Grand Chamber referred the case.
The saga began in 2008 when Semenya gained attention for her outstanding performance at junior competitions. In the lead-up to the 2009 World Championships, she faced invasive gender tests at the request of World Athletics, sparking intense public scrutiny and questioning of her eligibility. Despite winning gold, her gender became the focal point, with leaked documents revealing “differences in sex development” (DSD). Semenya described this period as “hell,” navigating through humiliating tests and grappling with the revelation that she didn’t meet conventional gender expectations.
Hormone treatments to lower testosterone levels followed, causing Semenya to endure nausea, depression, and mental strain. Despite the hardships, she pressed on, fueled by the desire to be an Olympic champion. The suspension of World Athletics’ testosterone limit policy in 2015 provided her with a reprieve, allowing her to compete without hormone therapy for four years, during which she secured gold medals at the 2012 and 2016 Olympics.However, in 2019, officials reinstated the rule, further reducing the allowed testosterone levels.
Semenya, drawing a line at the increasingly stringent regulations, refused to comply, prioritizing her well-being over further hormone suppression. Her legal victories have not compelled World Athletics to change its rules, with the organization emphasizing the protection of the integrity of the female category.
Undeterred, Semenya sees her ongoing battle as a mission to challenge the unjust regulations imposed on women’s bodies in sports.Despite uncertainties about the future, she stays resolute in her commitment to eliminate what she considers “nonsense” and to guarantee respect for women in sports.