The decision by the International Association of Athletics Federation (IAAF) to bar star South African athlete, Caster Semenya, from the international stage is discriminatory, humiliating and violates her dignity.

Caster Semenya

So says S Mahomed, a law fundi at Unisa and A Dhai, a medical expert at the University of Stellenbosch. They co-authored the article, entitled Global injustice in sport: the Caster Semenya ordeal, which was published by the SA Medical Journal. The article penned by Mahomed said the IAAF requires the blood testosterone level of female athletes with differences of sex development to be reduced to below 5 nmol/L for a continuous period of at least six months.

She remarked that gender verification of women was instituted in the Olympics in 1900, and female athletes were subjected to invasive, embarrassing and humiliating procedures.

“In its many decades of harsh scrutiny of successful female athletes, especially those from backgrounds similar to Semenya’s, the IAAF has disrespected human rights and medical ethics. It has allowed prejudice, discrimination and injustice to infringe on their dignity. The tests were requested by the IAAF because of her deep voice, muscular build and rapid improvements in time,” said Mahomed.

Mahomed said the star was 7.5 seconds faster than her previous times during the win in Berlin. In July 2010, Semenya was cleared to compete by a panel of medical experts and in 2012 won a silver medal in the 800 m event at the Olympic Games in London. The gold medal was won by a Russian athlete who was subsequently banned for doping. Semenya’s silver medal was then upgraded to gold,” said Mahomed. She pointed out that in 1968, the International Olympic Committee ( IOC) introduced mandatory sex testing for women in sport.

“The mandatory aspect was terminated 30 years later.Nevertheless, the IOC and other international sports bodies continued to implement gender verification and monitoring policies with regard to eligibility in female athletics competitions. The Barr Body Test was used until 1992. Because of its limitations, it was replaced by the polymerase chain reaction test of the SRY gene. However, false-positive results proved a limitation for this test, and by 2000, most international sports federations (24 out of 29) had abandoned routine gender verification testing,” said Mahomed. She said at that stage, the IOC had instituted a policy granting authority to medical experts at international events to conduct gender verification should an athlete’s sex be called to question.

“The IOC retained the right to test athletes where their gender identity was ‘suspicious’. The IAAF’s Policy on Gender Verification (2006) was similar to that of the IOC in that mandatory, standard or regular gender verification was no longer required. In addition, the policy made it clear that gender issues could arise when an athlete or team brought a challenge against a competitor to the attention of authorities when suspicions were raised during an event; during the process of anti-doping controls; or when an athlete or her national federation communicated concerns,”.

According to Mahomed, the 2006 policy was in operation when the international uproar concerning Semenya broke out in 2009. ” In April 2011, new rules from the IAAF came into force. Where there were reasonable grounds, (for example) a complaint from a fellow athlete or a drug test anomaly, a confidential investigation is to be handled by experts. The athlete would be offered an effective therapeutic strategy to lower androgen levels where indicated,” said Mahomed.

She added that the IAAF was given two years to provide conclusive evidence. ” The IAAF’s April 2018 rule change, which Semenya challenged and is still challenging was a response to the 2015 ruling. The IAAF had allegedly produced the evidence which has turned out to be a flawed and highly questionable study. By powerfully policing gender boundaries, the IAAF and the IOC have spent half a century resolutely trying to define who counts as a woman. The IAAF has now been trying to slow Semenya down for a full decade,” said Mahomed.

” Tough male athletes who excel are applauded, whereas robust and resilient female athletes who excel have their abilities questioned and doubted. Furthermore, there are a host of biological variations that offer specific competitive advantage. These include increased numbers of fast-twitch muscle fibres, exceptionally long limbs, extra-large hands and feet, and increased aerobic capacity. In addition, social and economic factors such as nutrition, access to specialist training facilities and coaching further enhance competitive gain.