Caster Semenya, a two-time Olympic champion, has become the public face of the controversy over testosterone levels in female athletes. The 28-year-old runner is believed to have an intersex condition that causes her body to produce higher levels of testosterone, which had led the International Association of Athletics Federation to ban her from competing with women.
But on Monday, the runner’s legal team said Semenya can continue competing without using medication to lower her testosterone while her legal appeal is being considered by Switzerland’s Federal Supreme Court. The court temporarily suspended the IAAF’s rule concerning gender classifications and permissible testosterone levels for female competitors.
“I am thankful to the Swiss judges for this decision,” Semenya said in a statement. “I hope that following my appeal I will once again be able to run free.”
With the track and field world championships less than four months away, the South African’s status remains uncertain, and the IAAF rule could be back in place before the year’s biggest competition gets underway in Qatar. The IAAF will make its case this month for immediate implementation of the rule, and the court is expected to issue another ruling on the continued suspension of the rule.
“The Swiss Supreme Court has granted welcome temporary protection to Caster Semenya,” said the runner’s Switzerland-based attorney, Dorothee Schramm. “This is an important case that will have fundamental implications for the human rights of female athletes.”
Asked for a response Monday, the IAAF issued the following statement: “We have received no information from the Swiss Federal Court so we cannot comment at this stage.”
The IAAF has maintained this gives her an unfair advantage over other female competitors. Last month, the Court of Arbitration for Sport sided with the IAAF, upholding the organization’s rule that put a cap on permissible testosterone levels for select track and field events. The rule requires any female athletes whose natural testosterone levels exceed 5 nanomoles per liter to lower their levels below the threshold and maintain it continuously for six months before a competition.
Athletics South Africa vowed last month to appeal the ruling, and last week Semenya filed an appeal of her own.
Her legal team has contended that the IAAF rule violates Semenya’s human rights. The case probably will stretch into the fall and might not be decided by the end of the calendar year, which means Semenya’s best hopes to compete at the world championships could lie with the Swiss court deciding to uphold the suspension of the rule until a final decision is made on the runner’s appeal.
Semenya has said she will not take medication to regulate her body’s hormones and has been considering competing in longer distances that are not covered by the IAAF rule. The rule applies only to events ranging from 400 meters up to a mile — the events Semenya has dominated in recent years. She won gold at the 2012 and 2016 Summer Olympics in the 800 meters and won world titles at that distance in 2009, 2011 and 2017.
Semenya is expected to compete in a 2,000-meter race next week in Paris and then a 3,000-meter race at the Prefontaine Classic on June 30.