South African middle-distance runner Caster Semenya will challenge a female classification rule imposed by the International Association of Athletics Federation (IAAF) at sport’s highest court, her lawyers said on Monday.
The double Olympic and triple world 800 meters champion faces having to take medication to lower her higher than normal levels of naturally-produced testosterone, which the sport’s governing IAAF has deemed gives her an unfair advantage.
Law firm Norton Rose Fulbright said in a statement that the legal challenge would be filed on Monday at the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) in Lausanne.
“Ms Semenya, like all athletes, is entitled to compete the way she was born without being obliged to alter her body by any medical means,” Norton Rose Fulbright said.
The IAAF said its decision was based on peer-reviewed studies and close observation by scientists which showed that females with above-normal or male equivalent levels of testosterone had up to a 12 percent performance advantage over fellow female athletes.
“These advantages (which translate, in athletics, to an average 10-12 percent performance difference across all disciplines) make competition between men and women as meaningless and unfair as an adult competing against a child,” the IAAF said in an e-mailed statement.
The athletics body added that it was ready to defend the new regulations at CAS if asked to do so.
Controversy has never been far from Semenya, now 27, since her teenage success in the 800 meters at the 2009 world championships in Berlin, where the pure power of her surge to victory sparked question marks about her sexuality.
Testosterone is a hormone that increases muscle mass, strength and haemoglobin, which affects endurance. The IAAF rule, which comes into force on Nov. 1, is not directly aimed at Semenya but she will be most affected by it.
South African media and politicians have rallied to her defense and called the IAAF actions a “witch hunt.”
“I just want to run naturally, the way I was born. It is not fair that I am told I must change. It is not fair that people question who I am. I am Mokgadi Caster Semenya. I am a woman and I am fast,” Semenya was quoted as saying in the Norton Rose Fulbright statement.