Caster Semenya has obtained a temporary block against regulations that would require her to artificially lower her testosterone levels before being allowed to participate in certain races.

Ibrahim Alomari/Reuters


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Ibrahim Alomari/Reuters


Caster Semenya has obtained a temporary block against regulations that would require her to artificially lower her testosterone levels before being allowed to participate in certain races.

Ibrahim Alomari/Reuters

Updated at 2:30 p.m. ET

Switzerland’s Federal Supreme Court has temporarily blocked a rule that barred athletics star Caster Semenya from competing, saying she should be allowed to run pending appeal. The international athletics governing body has said Semenya cannot compete in her showpiece event unless she lowers her testosterone levels.

A Swiss court ruled on Monday that Semenya, an Olympic and world champion in the 800 meters, should be allowed to “compete without restriction in the women’s category” during her appeal.

The International Association of Athletics Federations recently changed its rules, requiring Semenya, 28, to artificially lower her testosterone levels before she can compete against other women in the 800 meters and other track events.

“I am grateful to the Swiss judges for this ruling,” Semenya of South Africa said in a statement on the decision. “I hope that after my appeal I can run freely again.”

Semenya’s lawyer in the Swiss case, Dorothee Schramm of the Sidley Austin law firm, said the court granted Semenya “temporary protection”.

“This is an important case that will have fundamental implications for the human rights of female athletes,” Schramm said.

In the next stage of litigation, the Swiss Federal Supreme Court will give the IAAF a chance to present its case for upholding its regulations which effectively ban Semenya – who refused to manipulate his testosterone levels. The court will then issue what could be its final decision on the IAAF ban that blocks female athletes with elevated testosterone levels, even in cases where such elevations occur naturally. The IAAF has warned these female athletes that they must lower their testosterone levels to be eligible to compete.

“The IAAF suggests that this reduction be achieved by taking hormonal contraceptives, and they stress that surgical changes are not necessary,” as NPR’s Laurel Wamsley reported.

Semenya’s case has raised complex questions, including the nature of holding separate competitions for men and women, how much of an athlete’s ability may be due to hormones, and how to reconcile a policy of general fairness with the athletes who have what are called differences in sex development, or DSD – a term that also applies to people known to be intersex.

As NPR’s Melissa Block reported:

“Caster Semenya was raised female and is legally female. She fights the rules that affect DSD athletes who have typically male XY chromosomes, who were born with internal testicles, and who have higher testosterone levels than typical women.”

Last month, Semenya lost a separate case at the Court of Arbitration for Sport, which ruled that while regulations affecting DSD athletes are discriminatory, they are also “necessary, reasonable and proportionate” as a means of ensuring fair competition in regulating hormone levels. .

Semenya argues that IAAF regulations unfairly discriminate against athletes on the basis of sex or gender, as they apply only to female athletes – and only to a subset of female athletes who exhibit certain traits.

IAAF regulations require female athletes competing in restricted events – from the 400 meters to the mile – to keep their testosterone levels below a certain level for at least six months before a competition and keep them below that threshold as long as they want to be eligible for racing.

The testosterone limit comes into play at 5 nmol/L (nanomoles per liter).

“Most women (including elite female athletes) have low levels of naturally circulating testosterone in their bodies (0.12-1.79 nmol/L in the blood)” the IAAF said when he announced the new rule, “while after puberty the normal range for males is much higher (7.7 – 29.4 nmol/L).”

When Semenya lost her appeal last month, the IAAF said she and other female athletes who have testosterone levels above 5 nmol/L have been given a week to bring them down, urging women to start their “suppressive therapy as soon as possible”.

But instead of starting this treatment to preserve his eligibility, Semenya took his fight to another court.

“I am a woman and I am a world-class athlete,” she said last week. “The IAAF will not drug me or stop me from being who I am.”