LGBTIQ+ groups have joined members of the public and global figures in condemning the decision to force Caster Semenya to artificially lower her natural testosterone in order to compete.
On Wednesday, the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) upheld International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) regulations limiting the testosterone level in women athletes in certain events.
The rule, in particular, affects Semenya, who is South Africa’s Olympic and world champion in the 800 metres. While the CAS acknowledged that the regulations were indeed discriminatory, it ruled that they were still “necessary, reasonable and proportionate.”
In a statement, the groups Iranti and Intersex South Africa said they were “saddened” and “outraged” by the CAS decision, which they described as a “blow to the ongoing battle for equality in sports.”
They said: “By legitimising discrimination against Semenya, the IAAF is complicit in the ongoing human rights abuses against not only Semenya, but countless other vulnerable persons. History, we believe, will judge them most harshly.”
The organisations stated that they will not recognise the authority of any group “which openly admits and tries to justify discrimination against a black African female athlete.”
“It is insulting that the IAAF and CAS would disregard expert testimonies, activists, and the South African Athletics Federation in this matter,” commented Jabulani Pereira, Director at Iranti. The groups urged the public to stand with Semenya and for the CAS and IAAF to reverse their decision
“The blatant discrimination against Caster Semenya calls for everyone to stand up and fight with Caster,” added Crystal Hendricks of Intersex South Africa. “This is not the end but only the beginning. We do not have to change who we are to please society.”
A dangerous precedent
The UK’s Stonewall, a longtime promoter of LGBTIQ+ equality in sport, slammed the CAS decision as a “missed opportunity” to send a positive message of inclusion.
“Today’s ruling sets a dangerous precedent in regulating how people – particularly women – participate in sport,” said Kirsty Clarke, Director of Sport, Stonewall.
“Sport should empower individuals and communities. It also has the power to bridge gaps and bring people from all walks of life together. We stand with Semenya and all those who support creating a more inclusive environment within sport. Our work continues until all lesbian, gay, bi and trans people are accepted without exception, in all sports.”
The LGBTQ athlete has received messages of support from thousands of South Africans on social media as well as public figures from around the world.
South Africa’s Sport and Recreation Minister Tokozile Xasa said that the government has always believed that the IAAF regulations “trample on the human rights and dignity of Caster Semenya and other women athletes.”
Xasa added to Semenya: “You remain our golden girl. What you have done for our people and girls is enormous. You have flown our flag high. You have united a nation and inspired a rural girl. For that, we thank you Mokgadi.”
Tennis legend Billie Jean King, who in 1981 became one of the first major sports figures to come out, has also backed the track star.
“I am disappointed by today’s decision by the Court of Arbitration for Sports, which will prevent Caster Semenya from competing as her authentic self. @caster800m?, I stand with you,” King wrote on Twitter.
Semenya has 30 days to appeal the decision. In a defiant statement, the LGBTQ athlete said: “The decision of the CAS will not hold me back. I will once again rise above and continue to inspire young women and athletes in South Africa and around the world.”