Caster Semenya to be forced to lower testosterone levels or face 800m ban

Ben Bloom
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Caster Semenya to be forced to lower testosterone levels or face 800m ban

Caster Semenya will be unable to defend her Olympic or world 800m titles unless she takes testosterone-lowering medication, under new rules due to be announced later this week.

Athletics' governing body, the IAAF, will reportedly announce the creation of a new female classification to be known as Athletes with Differences of Sexual Development [DSDs], which includes those with hyperandrogenism such as Semenya.

From November 1, 2018, athletes who fit into that classification will be forced to undergo testosterone-lowering treatment only if they are to compete in track distances from 400m to the mile.

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The new rules are to be implemented after IAAF-commissioned research concluded that female athletes with naturally high testosterone levels in those specific disciplines benefited from an advantage over their rivals. In the 800m, over which Semenya has won two Olympic and three world titles, the advantage was 1.8 per cent, while it was 2.7 per cent over 400m.

The IAAF introduced a similar rule in 2011 - two years after Semenya stormed to her first world title as a teenager - which forced the South African to take testosterone-reducing medication for a number of years. It appeared to have a major impact on her speed, significantly lowering her season's bests from 2012 to 2015, when the Court of Arbitration for Sport [CAS] ordered a halt to the rule after an appeal by Indian sprinter Dutee Chand.

Semenya destroyed the 800m field at the Commonwealth Games earlier this month Credit: afp

That decision forced the IAAF to conduct their latest piece of research, which now underpins the decision to limit the ban only to women's track events between 400m and the mile. Controversially, it omits other field events despite the research finding an advantage could be gained in the pole vault (2.9 per cent) and hammer throw (4.5 per cent).

Because it is a new regulation, rather than an amendment to the previous one, the CAS are powerless to prevent it unless an athlete makes a fresh legal challenge.

Semenya's global 800m domination has provided athletics' chiefs with one of their most testing and controversial dilemmas in recent years, but speaking last month at the IAAF Council meeting where the proposed rule change was approved, the governing body's president Seb Coe said they were trying to ensure a "level playing field".

He said: "It is clear that this is one of the toughest subjects the council and I have been discussing. I want to make one point crystal clear, this is not about cheating, no athletes have cheated.

Semenya first burst onto the international scene when winning the world 800m title in 2009 Credit: afp

"This is about our responsibility to ensure, in simple terms, a level playing field. It is our sport and it is up to us to decide the rules. We draw the lines at two classifications for our competitions, men's events and women's events.

"This means we need to be clear about competition criteria for those two categories. Athletes need to abide by competition rules we set."

Semenya has not lost an 800m race since the year after the IAAF's initial hyperandrogenism rule was ended in 2015 and cruised to both 800m and 1500m titles at the Commonwealth Games earlier this month.

After that double success, she confirmed she may step up in distance in the future to compete over 5,000m and 10,000m - two events not included in the IAAF's latest testosterone rules.

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