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  • Writer's pictureMosibodi Whitehead

Discovery backs Caster as her fight to compete now goes to the European Court of Human Rights

It's been over two years since World Athletics introduced new regulations barring women with naturally occurring higher levels of testosterone from participating in distances from 400m to the mile because they believe this amounts to an unfair advantage. Caster Semenya - an Olympic and World Champion over 800m - has been left with three choices; to find another event; take medication to lower her testosterone levels or keep fighting the decision through the courts.

Semenya in action at the SA Track & Field Championships. Photo Credit: ASA.

Yesterday Semenya's legal team of Norton Rose and Fullbright announced that they would be taking the fight to the European Court of Human Rights because they believe that preventing The Cobra from racing her preferred distance is a violation of her human rights. Specifically, they will argue that by insisting Semenya and women like her to undergo 'invasive and humiliating' gender testing and/or forcing them to take potentially harmful medication to lower their testosterone levels should they want to compete in the 400m, 800m, 1500m or the mile, World Athletics are discriminating against the double Olympic champion.

"I hope the European Court will put an end to these longstanding human rights violations by World Athletics against women athletes. All we ask is to be able to run free," said the reigning Commonwealth 1500m champion whose resolve will almost certainly be buoyed by a December 2020 Human Rights Watch report documenting the abuses inflicted upon women athletes that have been forced to undergo gender testing. Semenya has also received backing from the United Nations whose Commissioner for Human Rights called on World Athletics to scrap these new laws, sentiments echoed by the South African parliament and the World Medical Association who say the new laws are medically unethical.

The Nike ambassador's decision to continue her fight through by petitioning the highest courts in the world cannot be cheap. Her powerhouse legal team comprises of lawyers working in Johannesburg, Paris and Toronto. Even though some are taking on her case pro bono, it's a case that demands significant financial resources which have come in the form of well-heeled sponsors like Discovery and Blue Label Telecoms.

With the legal battle almost certain to go on well past July, what remains to be seen is whether or not Semenya will choose to tackle a different distance at Tokyo 2021. Although she was crowned SA 5 000m champion in 2019, her winning time of 16:05.97 suggests she has some way before being able to run the qualification standard of 15:10.00. It is also understood that Semenya is reluctant to race the distance. Moreover switching distances could be interpreted by some as an acknowledgement of defeat. Semenya is not prepared to do that. "This fight is not just about's about taking a stand and fighting for dignity, equality and the human rights of women in sport. All we ask is to be able to run free once and for all, as the strong and fearless women we are and have always been. Thank you to all of those who have stood behind me relentlessly on this journey. We keep moving," she said.

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