Superstar sprinter Caster Semenya, whose natural hormone balance has been the subject of a decade-long debate and now a legal battle, will not be able to defend her title in the 800-meter dash at the world track and field championships in September.
The Swiss Supreme Court ruled this week that it would that it would uphold the International Association of Athletics Federations’ restrictions on testosterone levels that are considered in the “male range.” The new rules from the IAAF require all female competitors with natural testosterone levels above 5 nmol/L to lower them for six months before competing in races between 400 meters and a mile.
It’s the latest chapter in a controversy that the South African athlete has said “destroyed” her “mentally and physically.”
The IAAF released the revised rules in March, saying they were a necessary means of “preserving the integrity of female athletics.” Semenya challenged them before the Switzerland-based Court of Arbitration and lost before taking her case to the country’s highest court.
“This is a legal battle. It’s like war. You don’t give up,” she said at the time. “I’m a world champ, I’m an Olympic champion. I’ve achieved everything that I’ve ever wanted. At the end of the day I’m just doing it for those that cannot fight for themselves.”
The Swiss Supreme Court temporarily put the rules on hold last month while it considered the ruling. Meanwhile, Semenya has refused to submit to hormone therapy or change events, claiming the IAAF is unfairly targeting her and using her as a “guinea pig” in its rule-making around high-testosterone female athletes. She vowed not to compete at the World Championship if the rules were upheld.
Semenya has battled with the IAAF since 2009, when news was leaked that she was undergoing a gender-verification process—despite rules of confidentiality—and against her own knowledge of the testing. She was not eligible to compete for 11 months until the organization cleared her for competition but went on to introduce a series of rules capping women’s testosterone levels at lower and lower levels.
“But,” she said, “at the end of the day I’m still here... I am still standing. What I can do best is just to go back there, fight for those who cannot fight for themselves and fight for their right[s].”