South African Olympic superstar Caster Semenya has started her formidable legal battle for the right to compete as the woman she was born as.
On Monday, Semenya and her lawyers appeared at the Court of Arbitration for Sport (Cas) in Lausanne, Switzerland. The LGBTQ icon smiled and flashed a victory sign but refused to answer questions from journalists when she arrived. The proceedings are expected to continue for the rest of the week.
The 28-year-old track champion is challenging controversial regulations issued by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) in April last year concerning women athletes with high testosterone levels.
Under the policy, Semenya will have to use medication to artificially lower her natural testosterone in order to be allowed to compete as a woman.
The IAAF says this is necessary to ensure a level and fair playing field for women athletes. Critics of the regulations, however, argue that the basis of what is defined as a “normal” range of testosterone for women is arbitrary and discriminatory.
Semenya believes that the rules are a violation of her human rights and are “discriminatory, irrational, unjustifiable”, and that she is simply competing with her natural-born talents, like any other athlete.
Monday saw the 800m champion and her legal team lashing out at the IAAF for announcing the names of its expert witnesses in a media statement. They said that by doing so the IAAF had violated the strict confidentiality terms of the proceedings.
“Ms Semenya believes the IAAF press release is a clear breach of the confidentiality provisions that was orchestrated in an effort to influence public opinion in circumstances where the IAAF knew that Ms Semenya would not be prepared to respond because she was complying with her confidentiality obligations,” asserted Semenya’s lawyers.
“As a matter of fairness Ms Semenya raised this issue with the Cas and has been granted permission to publicly release information responding to the IAAF press release‚ including disclosing the experts who are testifying in support of Ms Semenya’s case. This information will be released tomorrow.”
Athletics South Africa (ASA) has fully backed Semenya’s case. It said in a statement that it was “appalled by the reports published in the UK media that the IAAF intends to submit to CAS that Caster Semenya should be classified as ‘biological male’.” The ASA noted that these reports have since been denied by IAAF lawyers.
ASA has also condemned the IAAF’s “breach of the confidentiality provisions” calling this “underhand tactics to try and win support for their views in the court of public opinion.” It urged the IAAF to “respect the process and comply accordingly.”
Ahead of the hearing, Semenya posted a number of inspirational quotes on Instagram, including: “God wouldn’t put you in it if he didn’t prepare you for it.”