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Caster Semenya, runner naturally doped by her male hormones

The Court of Arbitration for Sport is studying until Friday 22 February the case of the South African athlete hyperandrogen Caster Semenya.

His body naturally secretes male hormones, considered doping by the International Athletics Federation.

Double Olympic champion, the middle distance runner accuses the Federation of forcing a kind of "inverted" doping to lower this natural rate of hormones.

It has now been almost four days since the scientific and legal experts have sent their studies and arguments in the strict confidentiality of the Sports Court, the independent institution responsible for settling all sports disputes. The delicate question that will be decided by the referees whose decision, almost without appeal, is expected at the end of March, concerns the profile of Caster Semenya.

Ten years of polemics

The subject agitates the world of sport since the title at the World Athletics Championships 2009 this young athlete massive 18 years at the time, that her competitors, flat-footed, had accused of being a disguised boy, even a transsexual . Caster Semenya was then suspended for almost a year, while tests formally establish her femininity, while noting at home an abnormally high natural testosterone level for a woman. This male hormone, often used as a dopant, has the effect of limiting the burning effect of muscles during endurance events.

When the sports body reaches its limits

These tests led the International Federations, presided over today by Sebastien Coe, himself a former 800 and 1500m runner, to take two decisions. It has certainly been reintegrated, but this regularization has been accompanied by an obligation to stay, naturally or artificially, below a certain testosterone level deemed compatible with its female condition. Which implied for her to resort to a kind of reverse doping, since it was forced to take drugs to lower the famous rate.

The case could have stopped there, when another athlete, also hyperandrogenic, obtained in 2015 the stopping of this obligation by the Court of arbitration of the sport, which had attached its decision of a new condition against the Athletics Federation: it was to have a college of independent scientists carry out a study on the real impact of testosterone on performance.

The study published in 2017 concluded that the excess of male hormones did not change performance in jumps and sprints, but was a definite advantage in throws and middle distance. Back to square one, therefore, for Caster Semenyna who saw himself again forced to use drugs to lower artificially his rate.

"I want to run naturally, the way I was born"

The case goes far beyond the sports environment. On the one hand the international federation defends, in the words of its president Sebastian Coe, "The sanctity of fair and open competition". On the other, the lawyers of Caster Semeyna advance the right of the sportswoman "To use its natural characteristics to express itself as it is", without having to resort to a pharmaceutical artifice to meet the criteria of the Federation.

"I just want to run naturally the way I was born"said the athlete, adding on the eve of the opening, Monday, February 18, of the audience of Lausanne: "God has already prepared the way. He is just preparing you. " In other words, according to her, these debates will soon have no place after the arbitration, which she hopes will be favorable to her cause and that of the other hyperandrogenic athletes.

Supported by the South African Government

The hearing is very important, which explains the exceptional duration of the debates (five days against one or two for the usual cases) and the battalion of lawyers, medical experts, gynecologists and endocrinologists called to help the referees of the TAS to make a decision. It will be complex on the moral but also sporting level, because many runners complained of the competition, disloyal according to them, exerted by Caster Semenya.

Without neglecting an important political component, because the athlete has the active support of his government. She is of South African nationality, a nation particularly sensitive to discrimination, because of the fight led by another of its famous nationals, Oscar Pistorius, runner equipped with blades spring who had to fight to assert his right to run with valid .

Sentence weighed down on appeal for athlete Oscar Pistorius


The all-powerful Court of Arbitration for Sport

Created in 1984 under the auspices of the International Olympic Committee, the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) became independent in 1994. Today it is composed of 300 arbitrators – lawyers recognized in the main areas of litigation such as football transfers or doping cases – it has gradually become the supreme legal authority in the field of sport. Its decisions are in principle irrevocable before ordinary, national or international jurisdictions. Its head office is located in Lausanne, but it has an antenna in New York and another in Sydney. Long ignored in France, the CAS has burst into the French news by suspending Michel Platini from all functions in football.

Jean-François Fournel



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