Despite previous denials by the International Associations of Athletic Federations, documents released Tuesday by the Court of Arbitration for Sport in Switzerland reveal IAAF officials argued in court that Olympic champion Caster Semenya should be forced to reduce her natural testosterone to compete in female competitions because she is “biologically male.”
According to the CAS records, Semenya told the judges that being described as biologically male “hurts more than I can put in words.” The 28-year-old South African Olympic champion said she didn’t know how to properly explain how insulting it was for the IAAF to tell her “that I am not a woman.”
Semenya’s outrage and the IAAF’s characterization of Semenya and other female athletes affected by its controversial new testosterone regulations came to light in a 163-page document detailing closed-door exchanges from a five-day hearing held in February.
Although some portions remain redacted, the court records prove the IAAF did in fact refer to the three-time world champion as one of a number of “biologically male athletes with female gender identities.” Outsports, the BBC, ESPN and a number of other news sites all reported in February the IAAF’s denial it would do exactly what it did.
Using an argument that’s familiar to anyone who has participated in debates over transgender athletes, the IAAF said it was only trying to ensure fairness in female competitions: “There are some contexts where biology has to trump identity.”
Semenya is not transgender; she was legally identified as female at birth and has identified as female her entire life. She calls her ability a result of her “natural gifts.”
Although she’s never confirmed it publicly, the IAAF claims she is one of a number of female runners who have “differences of sex development” or DSD, and who were born with the typical male XY chromosome pattern. Someone with DSD would have some male biological characteristics, male testosterone levels after puberty, and according to the IAAF, an unfair advantage over female athletes whose chromosomes are XX.
Earlier this month, Switzerland’s supreme court ruled Semenya can compete without medical intervention, until the Swiss supreme court hears her full appeal of the CAS verdict upholding the IAAF rules. She and her attorneys argue that verdict upholding the IAAF proposed rules — which even the CAS determined was “discriminatory” — should be discarded and she should be allowed to run like any other woman. She denies she has a significant advantage.
Another disturbing revelation in the CAS documents was what the IAAF has put Semenya through in its quest to redefine what a “female athlete” is.
Semenya has been battling to be accepted as a woman for a decade, ever since she was embroiled in a gender verification test at the 2009 world championships.
In her statements to the CAS, Semenya said she had been subjected to gender verification tests that included an intrusive physical exam ordered by South African track authorities without being told or understanding the nature of the tests. She was just 18.
Then, after her breakthrough victory at those championships in Berlin, Semenya said she was taken to a hospital where the IAAF conducted more tests, without even asking if she would consent.
“It was an order by the IAAF which I had no choice but to comply with,” Semenya said.
The public speculation was “the most profound and humiliating experience of my life,” she recalled in her testimony.
Fom 2010-2015, Semenya reluctantly agreed to take oral contraceptives to suppress her testosterone, a treatment the IAAF recommended she undergo before she could compete.
The treatment resulted in what Semenya described as significant weight gain, constantly feeling sick, spiking her body temperature into regular fevers and causing internal abdominal pain.
The IAAF had used her as a “lab rat,” she testified, experimenting on her with a medical process now part of its controversial testosterone rules.
“I will not allow the IAAF to use me and my body again,” Semenya said in a statement released Tuesday.
Experts testified that the IAAF’s medical process is unethical. At least two other runners, Francine Niyonsaba of Burundi and Margaret Wambui of Kenya, both Olympic medalists, say they are also affected by the rules, and are objecting to the regulations proposed by the IAAF.