Top European court favors South Africa's Caster Semenya

In this Wednesday, Aug. 19, 2009 file photo South Africa's Caster Semenya celebrates after winning the gold medal in the final of the Women's 800m during the World Athletics Championships in Berlin (AP Photo/Anja Niedringhaus, File)

The European Court of Human Rights Tuesday ruled in favor of Caster Semenya, a South African Olympian, after international sporting bodies required female athletes with high natural testosterone to take drugs to lower it.

The top European human rights court passed the ruling in favor of Caster Semenya, after the 32-year-old double Olympic 800m champion lost appeals to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), sport’s highest court, and the Swizz Federal Tribunal (SFT) in a long-running legal battle.

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled by a slender majority of four votes to three, that Semenya’s appeal against World Athletics regulations had not been properly heard.

"The Court found in particular that the applicant had not been afforded sufficient institutional and procedural safeguards in Switzerland to allow her to have her complaints examined effectively," read a statement released by ECHR.

"The high stakes of the case for the applicant and the narrow margin of appreciation afforded to the respondent State should have led to a thorough Institutional and procedural review, but the applicant had not been able to obtain such a review," added the statement.

The ECHR’s ruling paves the way for Semenya to challenge regulations that placed her career on hold after facing challenges for her medical condition known as hyperandrogenism, which is characterized by higher than usual levels of testosterone, a hormone that increases muscle mass, strength and hemoglobin, affecting endurance.

Rules enforced by World Athletics call on athletes with differences in sexual development (DSDs) that result in high testosterone to lower them to those of “a healthy woman with ovaries” by taking a contraceptive pill, a monthly injection or undergoing surgeries to remove testes.

World Athletics said it stands by its rules that will remain in place for now.

"We remain of the view that the DSD regulations are a necessary, reasonable and proportionate means of protecting fair competition in the female category as the Court of Arbitration for Sport and Swiss Federal Tribunal both found, after a detailed and expert assessment of the evidence."

The international sports body insisted that its regulations are aimed at creating a level playing field for all athletes.

The Court of Arbitration for Sport ruled in 2019 that the global governing body's rules were necessary for fair female competition.

At the time, Semenya said the rules were discriminatory, and contraceptive pills made her feel "constantly sick." She lost her appeal to the SFT the following year to set aside the 2019 CAS ruling.

Semenya won gold in the women's 800 meters at the 2016 Games and is also a three-time world champion in the distance.

The regulations, initially applied to races of 400 meters to a mile, were expanded in March to include all female track events, preventing Semenya from relaunching her career by running longer distances.

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