Caster Semenya’s lawyers said the 800m Olympic champion is “unquestionably a woman” who will be fighting for her right to compete internationally without “unnecessary medical intervention” when she appears at the court of arbitration for sport.
Their intervention comes less than 24 hours after lawyers for athletics’ governing body, the International Association of Athletics Federations, suggested that, if Semenya was successful in next week’s landmark case, it could lead to athletes with differences of sexual development (DSD) and transgender athletes “dominating the podiums and prize money in sport”.
However, Semenya’s lawyers have hit back at the IAAF’s comments, pointing out that, while the South African “respects the rights and interests of transgender athletes around the world”, her focus is on being able to compete without having to take medication to reduce her testosterone levels.
“Her case is about the rights of women such as Ms Semenya who are born as women, reared and socialised as women, who have been legally recognised as women for their entire lives, who have always competed as women, and who should be permitted to compete in the female category without discrimination,” her lawyers said in a statement.
Semenya has been unbeatable over 800m since 2015 when Cas changed the rules to allow DSD athletes, many of whom are born with male testes and produce high levels of testosterone, to compete without taking testosterone-suppressing medication.
The IAAF wants to change the rules to create “a level playing field to ensure all female athletes have an equal chance to excel”. However, Semenya’s legal team will argue the natural advantages she derives from being a DSD are no different than those other athletes enjoy.
In a statement they added: “Women with differences in sexual development have genetic differences that are no different than other genetic variations that are celebrated in sport. She asks that she be respected and treated as any other athlete. Her genetic gift should be celebrated, not discriminated against.”
On Wednesday the IAAF rejected a report suggesting it regarded Semenya as a “biological male”. “The IAAF is not classifying any DSD athlete as male,” it added. “To the contrary, we accept their legal sex without question, and permit them to compete in the female category.”