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Semenya takes fight to court for third time, seeks to defend Olympic title

ATHLETICS By Robert Abong'o | February 25th 2021
South African 800 meters Olympic champion Caster Semenya arrives for a landmark hearing at the Court of Arbitration (CAS) in Lausanne on February 18, 2019. (Photo by Harold CUNNINGHAM / AFP)

Two-time Olympic 800 metres champion Caster Semenya has filed an application to the European Court of Human Rights seeking to overturn regulations restricting testosterone levels in female athletes. 

The 30-year-old South African has failed twice in legal battles seeking to overturn the protocols requiring women with high testosterone to take medication to contest internationally between 400 meters and a mile.

On social media on Thursday, February 25, Semenya confirmed she would try for a third time, with hopes of defending her title in the Tokyo Olympics this year.

“I hope the European court will put an end to the longstanding human rights violations by World Athletics against women athletes. All we ask is to be allowed to run free, for once and for all, as the strong and fearless women we are and have always been,” read part of a press release.

“This fight is not just about me, it's about taking a stand and fighting for dignity, equality and the human rights of women in sport. All we ask is to be able to run free as the strong and fearless women we are!! Thank you to all of those who have stood behind me,” the Olympic champion posted on Twitter.

World Athletics' governing introduced a rule in 2019 that required athletes with Differences of Sexual Development (DSD) must either take medication to participate in track events from 400 metres to a mile or switch to another distance.

The body argued high testosterone levels gave the athletes a competitive advantage over others.

“Throughout this long battle, World Athletics has always maintained that its regulations are lawful and legitimate and that they represent a fair, necessary and proportionate means of ensuring the rights of all female athletes to participate on fair and equal terms,” they said in a statement.

South Africa's Caster Semenya raises her arms after her first-place finish in her women's 800m semi-final during the London 2012 Olympic Games at the Olympic Stadium August 9, 2012. [REUTERS/David Gray (BRITAIN - Tags: OLYMPICS SPORT ATHLETICS)

The Court of Arbitration (CAS) upheld the rule, which meant Semenya had to take medication if she wanted to compete.

Semenya lost an appeal again in 2019 when the Swiss Supreme Court briefly suspended the ruling, before withdrawing its decision.

“Fairness in sport is a legitimate concern and forms a central principle of sporting competition. It is one of the pillars on which competition is based,” said the Court.

World Athletics welcomed the decision saying:

“For the last five years, World Athletics has fought for and defended equal rights and opportunities for all women and girls in our sport today and in the future. We, therefore, welcome today's decision by the Swiss Federal Tribunal to uphold our DSD regulations as a legitimate and proportionate means of protecting the right of all female athletes to participate in our sport on fair and meaningful terms."

"Whilst the timeline of the application remains to be determined by the court, Caster remains ever hopeful that she will soon be allowed to return to the starting line in the 800m at international competitions,” read a statement from Semenya’s lawyers on Thursday.

They will argue Switzerland failed in its duties to protect against the damage of Semenya’s rights.

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