MAHLATSE MPHAHLELE and ERNEST MABUZA
Olympic 800m champion Caster Semenya is appealing to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) against the restriction of testosterone levels in female runners.
Semenya is not allowed to compete in events between 400m and a mile without taking testosterone-reducing drugs after a 2019 rule change by governing body World Athletics (WA).
The two-time Olympic champion in the 800m has already lost two legal appeals against regulations by WA that force her to medically lower her natural testosterone level if she wants to run in women’s races from 400m to a mile.
The Court of Arbitration for Sport rejected Semenya’s challenge against the rule in 2019 but the Swiss Supreme Court later temporarily suspended the ruling before it reversed its decision.
This meant that Semenya, who won Olympic gold in the 800m in 2012 and 2016, missed the chance to defend her world championship 800m title in Doha after she failed in her bid to prevent the governing body’s rule change.
The 30-year-old South African, who still has ambitions of defending her Olympic title in Tokyo this year, wants to put an end to what is generally viewed as a long-standing human rights violations by WA against some women athletes.
In response to a parliamentary question on how far his department intends to go with Semeya’s case, sports minister Nathi Mthethwa said the department had made available R12m to support Semenya’s appeal.
Mthethwa said this was after being approached by Athletics SA with a request for financial resources to appeal to the ECHR.
As a government renowned for the protection and promotion of human rights, we should take an interest in the matter
“The department has also been approached by the department of international relations and co-operation after they received a letter from the Commission for Gender Equality (CGE), which expressed interest in the matter and requested support from the government to co-ordinate solidarity against World Athletics Female Athletes Classification Regulations.”
Mthethwa, in his response to a question from National Freedom Party MP Mzwakhe Sibisi, said meetings had been held between the departments and the CGE, about options that could be pursued to achieve international solidarity on the matter.
Part of that work included engaging Dirco to assist with a process to sponsor a resolution at the UN Human Rights Council, and a resolution that cautioned against the regulations as a violation of human rights was adopted.
“The hope that the appeal at the European Court of Human Rights may be successful is largely informed by this development and as a government renowned for the protection and promotion of human rights, we should take an interest in the matter, moreover because our own shining star, Ms Semenya, is being targeted.”
The Desmond and Leah Tutu Foundation has thrown its weight behind Semenya, saying that “one of the fundamental elements of a just society is that the rules apply equally to every individual”.
“It is sad how seldom this really happens,” the foundation said.
“Whether or not the European Court of Human Rights rules in time for Semenya to take to the track in Tokyo later this year — and her lawyers don’t expect that to happen — hers is a test case for other athletes with differences in sex development.
Semenya is just one example of the many women who have chosen to challenge the myriad ways in which their sisters are dismissed, held back and overlooked.
“Semenya is a trailblazer. She has set records in women’s athletics, and is bravely choosing to challenge World Athletics regulations despite the personal psychological cost that comes, inevitably, with so publicly drawing attention to oneself.
“Semenya is just one example of the many women who have chosen to challenge the myriad ways in which their sisters are dismissed, held back and overlooked.
“While we wish that it was not needed, we call on the global community to honour Caster Semenya, and all women who choose to challenge. Our world can only be the better for it,” the foundation added.