Restrictions on Female Testosterone Levels Upheld in Caster Semenya Case

by Spencer Penland 34

September 09th, 2020 Industry, News

South African Olympic gold medalist runner Caster Semenya has lost her lengthy appeal to Switzerland’s Federal Supreme Court over the restrictions of naturally high female testosterone levels in female track & field athletes. World Athletics, the governing body of international track & field competition, changed the rules in 2019, making it so that athletes with sexual development disorders must take medication in order to compete in the 400m, 800m, or mile.

Semenya is an 800m specialist, having won gold at the 2009 and 2017 World Championships, as well as gold at the 2016 Rio Olympics. She was assigned female at birth, raised as a cis-gender woman, and has always identified as a female; however, she has XY chromosomes as a result of a sexual development disorder. The XY chromosomes lead Semenya to naturally produce a higher level of testosterone than what most females typically produce.

Therefore, due to the World Athletics rule change, if Semenya wants to compete in the 800m at the Tokyo Olympics next year, she will have to take medication to reduce her testosterone levels.

Semenya has indicated she will not take medication to lower her production of testosterone, and will instead be focused on running the 200m in Tokyo, thus getting around the 400m-and-up rule. She had some choice words about the World Athletics rule, saying “Excluding female athletes or endangering our health solely because of our natural abilities puts World Athletics on the wrong side of history.”

Semenya also posted this tweet shortly after news about the ruling broke today:

Although she had indicated earlier this year that she will be attempting to qualify for the Olympics in the 200m to bypass the new rule, she is currently 1.46 seconds off the Olympic qualifying standard in the event. In light of today’s ruling, Semenya says she is “considering all of her options, internationally and domestically.”

The topic of the rights of athletes who are non-binary in sports has become a hot-button topic the last few years, as governing bodies struggle to balance the rights of those athletes to compete with the fact that intersex and transgender athletes don’t fit into the binary competition that has been developed in the name of leveling playing fields.

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CACrushers
1 year ago

I’m surprised the 400-and-up-rule has lasted as long as it has. Does anyone actually believe there’s an advantage to be had in the 400 but not the 200?

Sean S
Reply to  CACrushers
1 year ago

It’s blatantly targeting Semenya. 400 is the shortest event she runs. If anything more testosterone helps you more in the shorter events that are more power based.

The unoriginal Tim
Reply to  Sean S
1 year ago

Agreed the rule is targeted. It should apply to all events or none.

Richard Ernsberger
Reply to  CACrushers
1 year ago

Agree–the rule doesn’t make sense. But I agree with the decision that s/he cannot race unless s/he lowers testosterone. S/he may have been assigned female at birth–but s/he has got X/Y chromosomes and that and his/her physical characteristics (size, musculature, facial shape) plus her very high testosterone levels certainly suggest to me that she is more male than female. S/he is in no way a conventional female athlete–and her/his defiant attitude is somewhat alarming. S/he apparently thinks that her biological profile is no big deal–and it is.

Frustrated
Reply to  Richard Ernsberger
1 year ago

She is a woman and identifies as such. Her doctors assigned her female at birth, and I would presume know a lot more about her biology than you do. So please cut that “s/he” stuff out, it is so offensive and wrong. Also when you say she had a defiant attitude, you are being extremely sexist. She has lost all privacy and her god-given talents are being questioned, because people initially thought she was doping. Of course she is angry. Shame on you for putting this offensive and harmful language up on a site mainly targeted at kids.

The Kraken
1 year ago

It’s a tough situation for everyone, but you have to draw the line somewhere in regards to testosterone levels.

PVSFree
Reply to  The Kraken
1 year ago

Why not make an exception for people with naturally higher levels of testosterone? We accept the fact that pro athletes are naturally superior/talented; I don’t see how this is any different than genetic gifts

torchbearer
Reply to  PVSFree
1 year ago

Because testosterone is a major factor in what delineates the difference between male and female, and sport is divided into male and female categories.It is an arbitrary decision to some degree, it just happens to be where they draw the line. It is very tough on people like Semenya, who lose their sport for no fault of their own.

GA Boy
Reply to  torchbearer
1 year ago

But it’s absurd to say that something she can’t control should disqualify her. If we allow natural genetic limiting where does the line start. Why should she hurt from her natural gift. On top of that if genetic limiting is fair and right, it’s a valid argument to say MP should have never been able to swim in the Olympics because his torso is “too long” compared to the average human, or Kenyan runners shouldn’t be allowed to compete because their legs are “too long” compared to people from other locations. If it’s natural, I don’t think it’s fair to say anyone is “too” anything.

Richard Ernsberger
Reply to  GA Boy
1 year ago

S/he is not in any way a normal woman–that is clear. Her/his testosterone level is clearly an advantage. Semenya may not have any control over it–but is is a advantage. In my view, s/he is more male than female–and x/y chromosomes would seem to prove it, no?

swimfast
Reply to  Richard Ernsberger
1 year ago

ok she is a female. however the rule states that she is in sport partially a male, therefore must regulate in order to compete against women. her personal ID isn’t being questioned, it’s just that something that is clearly an advantage in specifically how fast you can run (not intellect, character, etc) has been indeed studied and proven. thus, she can’t compete in the category of women until it’s to that level. i personally don’t know how to feel about this issue, but referring to her a “(s)he” is inaccurate

WIswimmom
Reply to  GA Boy
1 year ago

You stated that why should she be disqualified from something she can’t control….but she can control it. With medication to make her hormone levels equal to the other females she is competing against.
Your argument about MP and track competitors hold no weight, because they actually CANT help or change the fact that their torso or legs are too long .( actually MP has an unusually long wingspan/ arms)
Regarding transgender athletes, instead of trying to fit a square peg in a round hole….. why can’t there be an Olympics for them so they can compete against people of similar hormonal/body types? They have special Olympics for the disabled , why is that ok to segregate and this… Read more »

Anonymoose
Reply to  GA Boy
1 year ago

Is she disqualified from competing with the men? I doubt it bc even women often could theoretically compete with the men rule-wise

Xman
Reply to  PVSFree
1 year ago

Semenya has higher levels of testosterone because she is a male with XY chromosomes who was born with underdeveloped genitals.

She does not have ovaries and her body produces the natural levels of testosterone of a male.

Throughout the decades sports authorities have changed how they determine if someone is male or female in cases of ambiguity. Currently they measure testosterone levels and have a set threshold. Prior to this they did a genetic test to see if someone was XX or XY.

I don’t know enough about cases where a biological (XX chromosome) female having naturally higher testosterone where it mirrors that of a man, which I believe you are referring too.

There are cases of PSOC… Read more »

HeadTimer
Reply to  Xman
1 year ago

She is not male. Read the story: She was assigned female at birth, raised as a cis-gender woman, and has always identified as a female; however, she has XY chromosomes as a result of a sexual development disorder. The XY chromosomes lead Semenya to naturally produce a higher level of testosterone than what most females typically produce.

Her level of testosterone is not her fault. She didn’t take drugs to produce it, why should she have to take drugs to reduce it? Also lots of females have endocrine disorders, for the record.

Richard Ernsberger
Reply to  HeadTimer
1 year ago

How she was raised and how she identifies, or how she was assigned at birth, don’t really mean anything. What does is her biological/genetic characteristics–and they certainly lean more male than female. S/he’s got X/Y chromosomes. That’s male–as is the very high testosterone level. S/he’s essentially a male competing in female events. Have a look at him/her…male.

Xman
Reply to  HeadTimer
1 year ago

Her sexual development disorder is being a male with underdeveloped genitals. The chromosomes did not lead Semenya to produce higher testosterone, she has testicles which cannot descend.

The unoriginal Tim
Reply to  Xman
1 year ago

But trans women are allowed to compete with higher levels of testosterone than Semenya.

swimfast
Reply to  Xman
1 year ago

ok i actually take back what i said up there and second this^^ this is true

OldSwimmer
Reply to  PVSFree
1 year ago

She has “naturally high” testosterone because she is genetically XY. That Y chromosome makes her genetically male. I have no problem with how she identifies or what locker room she uses, but that Y chromosome alone should prohibit her from competing as a female.

torchbearer
Reply to  The Kraken
1 year ago

This is a really tough one, no winners here. Up to 1 percent of people are born with some intersexual characteristics or issues, it is not that rare.

Alo
1 year ago

deleted

Last edited 1 year ago by Alo
Woke Stasi
1 year ago

I saw her run the 800 at the 2019 Prefontaine Classic. The only people I saw on the track who had a more developed upper body were the men’s 110 high hurdlers — none of the other male athletes (milers, sprinters, steeplechasers) came close. She was a lot of fun to watch.

Awsi Dooger
Reply to  Woke Stasi
1 year ago

It’s less fun when you’re a huge track and field fan who watches every race, with each one unfolding exactly the same way when Semenya is involved at 800m. She was oft criticized on track forums because it seemed obvious for years she was not going full out, to make sure the winning margins and times were worse than they could be, to prevent increased scrutiny and a decision like this. It wasn’t fun watching talented 800m specialists like Melissa Bishop expend their athletic prime without medal while facing Semenya and two others in that event with similar testosterone issues.

Tough call but I believe the sporting courts got it right. However I think it should take a combination of… Read more »

ThirteenthWind
1 year ago

Oh yay. More regulations on women’s bodies. Do men also get to have a max natural testosterone level implemented?

Doconc
Reply to  ThirteenthWind
1 year ago

Yes. They have max testosterone levels that are elevated by taking the hormone

Same with GH but not testable

Kate
Reply to  ThirteenthWind
1 year ago

Regardless of her gender identity, she isn’t biologically female.

And yes, biological males who exceed the max testosterone level are also restricted in competition.

Jack T
1 year ago

Trans women should not be competing in women’s sports period. This is absolutely unfair. How can you argue that she deserves to be competing with women when she clearly produces as much testosterone as a man does because she has XY chromosomes not XX. Please change my mind and explain how this is a possibility. It is just not fair for other very hardworking women who strive to be at the top but have their spot taken by a biological male.

ThirteenthWind
Reply to  Jack T
1 year ago

She isn’t trans. She is a cis gendered woman. Her chromosomes don’t match her sexual presentation and gender identity.

Trans is when your sexual presentation doesn’t match your gender identity.

Last edited 1 year ago by ThirteenthWind
Fraser Thorpe
Reply to  Jack T
1 year ago

As jack says, She’s not trans – what’s described is a form of intersex.

The unoriginal Tim
Reply to  Jack T
1 year ago

Try out this thing called Google – she isn’t trans. That is however another big issue. Trans women have different rules to Semenya and are allowed more testosterone than she is under these rules. How is that fair?

Ice Age Swimmer
Reply to  Jack T
1 year ago

I agree. I support Casters right to live love and work without discrimination, but we are going to need to come up with some different classes/categories/competitions. It’s simply not fair for a person with XY to compete against XX women, nor is it fair for an average woman to compete against a transgender woman who is enhanced with male hormones. Or anyone taking PED for that matter.

PC Principal
1 year ago

There should be 2 competitive brackets Limited and Open, end male/female. Testosterone is the difference. Now let’s talk about Chinese gene therapy and manipulation.

WIswimmom
Reply to  PC Principal
1 year ago

Not a bad idea…. they do that in car racing