Caster Semenya discrimination case gains momentum

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Chapter 9 bodies, civil society organisations and legal partners will make an announcement today, on the upcoming case of Olympic Games Champion, Caster Semenya, at the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights.

The case, referred by the Swiss government against the July 2023 judgment of the European Court that World Athletics is bound by international law, will be heard on 15 May 2024 for a final ruling.

In July 2023 the European Court of Human Rights ruled in favour of Semenya with a majority of four votes to three.

It held that there had been a violation of the prohibition of discrimination, taken together with the right to respect for private life, as well as a violation of the right to an effective remedy.

This after Semenya challenged the ruling by the governing body of world athletics, the IAAF, for athletes who have a Difference of Sexual Development (DSD) to take hormone treatment to decrease their natural testosterone level in order to compete internationally.

Semenya, upon entering the global stage and becoming a world champion, has been subjected to questions related to this.

“For me, I will say, it was great but in another way round, it wasn’t because you know I get introduced to the world, I become a world champion and then my gender is questioned, it is not a problem but the problem was how IAAF dealt with the situation. And for me it was just nothing because at the end of the day, I knew who I was and I understood myself,” says Semenya.

Caster Semenya wins testosterone discrimination case in European Court:

The IAAF, in April of 2018, introduced new eligibility regulations for female classifications for Athletes with DSD for restricted events which includes the 800m race which Semenya had won multiple times.

The IAAF, in its explanation behind what informed this new requirement, noted, among other things that “evidence shows clearly that, at least in certain events, DSD athletes with levels of circulating testosterone in the normal male range, have a very significant competitive advantage over female athletes with testosterone levels in the normal female range”.

While Semenya won her discrimination case which found that these regulations had little regard for international human rights and that her appeal to the Swiss Federal Court had not been properly heard, it was a technical one as athletes such as her and many others are still prevented from competing.

The South African Human Rights Commission’s Andre Gaum, at the time of Semenya’s successful discrimination case, said that it was time for the body to accept the European Court of Human Rights judgment.

“I think the appropriate thing for world athletics now is to accept this judgment and to accept that here is a finding that it discriminated by means of these regulations, against not only Caster Semenya, but people in a similar position and they should continue to amend these regulations.

I really do think this is a serious finding, they should rethink their position and amend their regulations so it is in line with human rights.”

The Swiss government’s referral is expected to be heard by 17 judges including the Court’s President, Vice-Presidents, the Section Presidents and the national judge.