Caster Semenya back in the negative headlines as IAAF publishes its report

By Robson Sharuko

HARARE OLYMPIC champion Caster Semenya has been thrust back into the uncomfortable glow of the global spotlight – provoking a barrage of negative reports related to her around the world – after revelations on Tuesday that gender tests for female athletes with high levels of testosterone could be reinstated following a new study that found it gave them an advantage over fellow competitors.

The 26-year-old South African powered to her finest hour in her athletic career, which has had its fair share of controversy, when she won the gold medal in the 800 metres at the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on August 20 last year after clocking a time of 1 min 55.28 seconds.

But while Semenya’s success was cheered wildly in South Africa, and most parts of Africa, it wasn’t warmly embraced around the world where some of her rivals felt she had an unfair advantage over them and the races were not run on a level playing field.

In July 2015, the Court of Arbitration for Sport suspended, for two years, the world athletics governing body’s rules limiting how much testosterone female athletes can have in their bodies, forcing the IAAF to commission a research because they wanted to be given the right to test women with hyperandrogenism. The CAS ruling came in the wake of a challenge launched by Indian sprinter Dutee Chand with the Swiss-based body questioning the validity of the gender tests which centred on the high testosterone levels that might be found in some female athletes.

The Indian sprinter had been handed a ban following a failed hormone test but successfully petitioned CAS that the process which had left her in isolation was discriminatory and was clearly faulty it could not be trusted to pronounce such a definitive position on an individual.

This meant that the IAAF had until this month to prove their case and specialist doctors Stephane Bermon and Pierre-Yves Garnier were tasked with conducting the research whose results were published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.

Two thousand one hundred and twenty seven male and female athletes, who took part in the 2011 and 2013 World Championships, took part in the research whose conclusion was that high testosterone levels give a “significant competitive advantage” in the 400m, 400m hurdles, 800m, hammer throw, and pole vault events in particular.

The IAAF published part of the findings of the research on their official website under the headline, “Levelling The Playing Field In female Sport,’’ on Monday.

“New research has been published today in support of the International Association of Athletics Federations’ (IAAF) currently suspended Hyperandrogenism Regulations,’’ the IAAF said.

“On 27 July 2015 in a Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) case between the Indian athlete Dutee Chand and the Athletics Federation of India and the IAAF, the CAS made an interim decision to suspend the IAAF’s Hyperandrogenism Regulations for a period of two years, in order to provide the IAAF with an opportunity to submit further evidence as to the degree of performance advantage that hyperandrogenic female athletes have over athletes with normal testosterone levels.

“Funded by the IAAF and the World Anti-Doping Agency, the study describes and characterises serum androgen levels and studies their possible influence on athletic performance in both male and female elite athletes.

“Among other things, the study found that in certain events female athletes with high testosterone levels benefit from a 1.8-4.5 percent competitive advantage over female athletes with lower testosterone levels.’’

Bermon’s comments on the study were also published on the IAAF official website.

“Our starting position is to defend, protect and promote fair female competition. If, as the study shows, in certain events female athletes with higher testosterone levels can have a competitive advantage of between 1.8-4.5 percent over female athletes with lower testosterone levels, imagine the magnitude of the advantage for female athletes with testosterone levels in the normal male range. ‘’

And, given the controversy that has always stalked Semenya, who has been accused by her rivals of having an unfair advantage over them, the global spotlight, in the wake of the publication of the research, swiftly fell on the South African athlete.

No sooner had the report been published did the influential British newspaper, The Guardian, ran a story that Semenya now faced a “ban’’ from athletics.

“Caster Semenya, the Olympic 800m champion, may be banned from competing at future Games unless she undergoes hormone replacement therapy (HRT) or even surgery in the wake of a landmark study into athletes with raised testosterone levels which has just been published,’’ the newspaper said.

Semenya, who won every 800m race she entered last season, has always suggested there was a deliberate plot to elbow her out of athletics.

“Since my victory in the female 800 metre event at the Berlin World Championships in August last year, I have been subjected to unwarranted and invasive scrutiny of the most intimate and private details of my being,’’ the athlete said in an emotionally-charged statement released on March 30, 2010.

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