A court ruling requiring Olympic running sensation Caster Semenya to lower her testosterone levels goes to the heart of a dilemma facing the sports world: How to avoid discrimination against intersex or transgender athletes while ensuring that competitions are fair.
The challenges faced by Semenya — a South African woman who reportedly has some intersex traits — differ in key respects from those confronting transgender women. But there are parallels as well, as evidenced in Wednesday’s ruling by the Court of Arbitration for Sport, the sports world’s highest court.
The court ruled that Semenya and other female runners with unusually high testosterone must take medication to reduce their levels of the male sex hormone if they want to compete in certain events, notably the 400 and 800 meters.
Track and field’s governing body, the IAAF, will also apply its testosterone regulations to the 1,500 meters, president Sebastian Coe said on Thursday, despite the court’s suggestion that it be applied only to the shorter distance races.
Comparable requirements apply to transgender women seeking to compete in the Olympics and in NCAA-governed collegiate sports in the U.S. Both organizations say male-to-female athletes should demonstrate that their testosterone level has been below a certain point for at least a year before their first competition.
In Semenya’s case, the court voted 2-1 to uphold proposed rules issued by the IAAF, saying that they are discriminatory but that “such discrimination is a necessary, reasonable and proportionate means” of “preserving the integrity of female athletics.”