Call for support for Olympic Athlete Caster Semenya as 10-year legal battle resumes

SOUTH AFRICA - Caster Semenya. Photograph; Phando Jikelo/African News Agency(ANA)

SOUTH AFRICA - Caster Semenya. Photograph; Phando Jikelo/African News Agency(ANA)

Published May 15, 2024


A clarion call has been made for South Africans, activists, civil society organisations and other stakeholders to rally behind double Olympic champion Caster Semenya’s “quest for justice” against the continued denial of her right to participate in sport.

The Commission for Gender Equality (CGE) has at the beginning of Semenya’s appearance before the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in Strasbourg, France today called for the country and global community to show their support for the 33-year old middle-distance runner.

Semenya is appearing before 17 judges as the Swiss government seeks to appeal a July 2023 judgment which ruled in favour of the athlete at the European Court of Human Rights.

According to the judgment, World Athletics, formerly known as the International Athletics Amateur Federation, was bound by international law not to discriminate against anyone without compelling reasons.

This came after the federation banned Semenya from participating in international competitions.

Javu Baloyi, the CGE spokesperson, said in 2019, the World Athletics body introduced regulations that required female athletes to maintain testosterone levels below 5 nanomoles per litre for a continuous period of at least six months, particularly if they have Differences of Sex Development (DSD).

Baloyi said this regulation effectively required athletes to medically reduce their natural testosterone levels, violating their rights to bodily integrity, dignity and equality.

Advocate Nthabiseng Sepanya-Mogale, the chairperson of CGE, said the hearing by the Grand Chamber would be groundbreaking not only for Semenya but for other athletes facing a similar challenge.

Sepanya-Mogale said the majority of the panel of judges of the European Court of Human Rights found that international sporting bodies based in Europe were subject to the European Court of Human Rights jurisdiction, and that violations could be dealt with under the European Convention on Human Rights.

“A finding by the Grand Chamber that issues between international athletics bodies such as World Athletics and individual athletes are not a matter of private law but of public human rights law are transformative and progressive. A favourable outcome will be of massive importance to athletes with differences in sexual development worldwide.

“It is against this backdrop that the commission is making a clarion call for all to rally behind Caster in an endeavour to seek justice not only for herself, but other affected athletes. This action is not only about Caster but the principle of justice and the rule of law,” she added.

The Department of Sport, Arts and Culture (DSAC) expressed its support behind Semenya’s bid to defend her right to participate in international sporting without altering her testosterone levels.

“The department is committed to advocating for fairness and equality in sport. As the country celebrates 30 years of democracy, every athlete, regardless of their gender or physical attributes, should have the right to compete without facing unjust obstacles.

"We trust that the Grand Chamber’s judgment will uphold these principles and deliver a positive outcome for Caster and all athletes affected by similar challenges,” said DSAC Acting Director-General, Dr Cynthia Khumalo.