Caster Semenya will consider all options available to her to challenge the decision by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) to uphold the IAAF’s controversial ruling to only allow some woman athletes to compete if they artificially lower their natural testosterone levels.
The athlete’s lawyer, Greg Nott, told City Press this week that they were formulating a fightback strategy to appeal the verdict by CAS, which eventually handed the IAAF the right to implement the new rules.
The regulations – which come into effect on Wednesday – require woman athletes with naturally elevated testosterone to lower their levels using medication before they can be allowed to compete in elite races from 400m to one mile (1.609km).
The order effectively prohibits Semenya from defending her three major international titles, which are all from IAAF-sanctioned events: the World Championships, the Olympic Games and the Diamond League crowns.
“Her titles will remain. Her right to win more must go on uncompromised,” retorted Nott, director at the legal firm Norton Rose Fulbright SA.
The IAAF rules leave the 28-year-old runner with basically only two options – if she wants to continue running, she must suppress her testosterone to stay eligible for her specialist events (the 800m and the 1 500m), or shift to the other events that are not restricted.
But Semenya, who claimed victory in the Diamond League season-opening race in Doha on Friday with a world-leading time of 1:54.98, said she would not subject herself to a practice that will force a few runners to undergo blood sampling to measure their testosterone level to be eligible to compete at the World Championships in Qatar in September.
Nott has come a long way with the iconic athlete, whom he has represented legally for a decade – from the first day the IAAF picked a fight with Semenya.
They won the previous battle against the world athletics governing body to allow Semenya back into competitions after she was dragged into a gender verification row at the global track and field meeting in Berlin, Germany, in 2009.
“Caster has become a modern-day fighter for freedom. She remains indomitable,” Nott said. “I have acted on her behalf for 10 years. Her will and faith in herself is unflinching. To be part of her team is an honour, a blessing.”
The general feeling around the world is that this case has become a human rights issue. The UN has already called for governments to make sure sports organisations “refrain from developing and enforcing policies and practices that force, coerce or otherwise pressure woman and girl athletes into undergoing unnecessary, humiliating and harmful medical procedures”.
The World Medical Association has also called on its members not to implement the new regulations.
The association, which represents physicians from 114 national member bodies, said there was “weak evidence” that the regulations were necessary, and that they should be scrapped.
Nott concurred: “This goes to the very heart of a human’s rights.”
In the verdict released by CAS this week, a panel of judges ruled 2-1 in favour of upholding the IAAF’s restrictions, arguing that Semenya’s legal team was “unable to establish that the regulations were invalid”.
In the same breath, CAS agreed that the new rules were discriminatory, but that “such discrimination is a necessary, reasonable and proportionate means of achieving the IAAF’s aim of preserving the integrity of female athletics”.
It boggles the mind why CAS said the full details of the decision would remain confidential for now, when it was expected that the ruling would be final and binding.
But Semenya still believes that the IAAF is targeting her specifically.
She pointed out that her “unique genetic gift should be celebrated, not regulated”.
She also highlighted the concerns expressed by the CAS panel about the difficulties implementing and complying with the regulations.
The South African 800m record holder also argued that it was “irresponsible for the IAAF to proceed with the implementation of the regulations in circumstances where the CAS decision makes it abundantly clear that there are serious problems that need to be carefully considered”.
Nott also warned of an adverse financial impact the ongoing saga may have on the two-time Olympic champion.
“We will look at what financial harm will be caused by any loss of future earnings,” he said.
Semenya claimed the Diamond League 800m grand prize of $50 000 (R710 000 at today’s exchange rate) last year.
She and her legal team are now left with 26 days to appeal the decision in the Federal Court in Switzerland.
“In the interim, we have to raise money once again for her appeal. Access to justice is regrettably a costly exercise, especially for Africans fighting for their very existence in a European court,” said Nott.