(Johannesburg) South African athlete Caster Semenya, prevented from competing because she refuses treatment to lower her testosterone levels, asked on Friday for help to finance her legal battle against these regulations.
“We are short of funds. We have a lot of experts who come and who we have to pay,” Semenya said at a press conference in Johannesburg, specifying that the hearing concerning her before the Grand Chamber of the ECHR was scheduled for May 15. “So anything you can do, it makes a huge difference.”
The Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), its supreme body, agreed in November to look into the case of the double Olympic 800m champion (2012, 2016).
The 33-year-old sportswoman had previously won a long-term legal battle in July when the ECHR ruled in her favor at first instance against Switzerland, finding that the athlete was the victim of discrimination.
But the Swiss authorities, supported by the International Athletics Federation (World Athletics, formerly IAAF), had announced their intention to bring the case before the Grand Chamber of the ECHR, a sort of appeal body whose decisions are definitive.
The first instance decision was only rendered by a narrow majority of four judges to three.
Swiss justice confirmed in 2020 a decision by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) validating a World Athletics regulation. This requires the hyperandrogenic athlete to take hormonal treatment to lower her testosterone level if she wants to match her favorite distance.
Regulations tightened in 2023
“Switzerland exceeded the reduced margin of appreciation which it enjoyed in the present case which concerned discrimination based on sex and sexual characteristics, which can only be justified by “very strong considerations””, had estimated in July the ECHR, based in Strasbourg.
“The significant stakes of the case for the applicant and the reduced margin of appreciation of the respondent State should have resulted in in-depth institutional and procedural control, from which the applicant did not benefit in this case,” she continued.
The judgment rendered in July by the ECHR did not, however, invalidate the World Athletics regulations and did not directly open the way for Semenya to participate in the 800m without treatment.
“The current regulations on DSD (differences in sexual development, Editor’s note), approved by the Council of the International Athletics Federation in March 2023, remain in place,” the body had indeed specified.
Semenya has a natural excess of male sex hormones and has been engaged in a standoff with the International Athletics Federation for more than ten years, calling for respect for “dignity and human rights”.
In March 2023, World Athletics tightened its regulations concerning hyperandrogenic athletes, like Semenya, who must now maintain their testosterone level below the threshold of 2.5 nanomoles per liter for 24 months (instead of 5 nanomoles for six months) to compete in the women’s category, regardless of the distance.