Sunday, 21 July, 2024
HomeMedico-LegalTestosterone-level battle to European Court of Human Rights

Testosterone-level battle to European Court of Human Rights

South African athlete Caster Semenya is taking her legal fight to participate in women’s sports to the European Court of Human Rights, her latest bid to “put an end to the longstanding human rights violations by World Athletics against women athletes.”

Time reports that the lawsuit from the two-time Olympic champion challenges restrictions on testosterone levels in female athletes that prevents certain women from participating in international sports competitions.

In a tweet, Semenya shared a press release from her lawyers, Norton Rose Fulbright, which said: “Semenya’s ongoing fight for dignity, equality, and the human rights of women in sport took a crucial step forward with the filing of an application” to the ECHR. The lawsuit asks that the Strasbourg court find that “Switzerland has failed in its positive obligations to protect her against the violation of her rights.”

In September 2020, Semenya lost her long-running legal battle at the Switzerland Supreme Court, preventing her from competing at the Tokyo Olympics unless she agrees to medical interventions to lower her testosterone. She had appealed against a 2019 ruling by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) based in Switzerland that upheld 2018 rules from the international athletics governing body World Athletics that prohibit some female runners with naturally higher levels of testosterone from participating in international women’s sports competitions.

Such regulations involve “sex testing” for women’s participation in sport, which violates several internationally protected human rights including rights to privacy, dignity health and non-discrimination, according to a December 2020 report by Human Rights Watch.

The report called World Athletics’ sex-testing regulations “inherently subjective and degrading,” and highlighted that the testosterone levels used to rule out certain women from participating in sports fall “within an arbitrary and largely unscientific range.” HRW said the regulation has been used to police the bodies of women athletes with higher testosterone levels, forcing medical interventions upon them to lower levels of the hormone so they could keep competing, and has also disproportionately affected women from the Global South.

According to Time, in a June 2020 report, which highlighted Semenya’s case, the UN called for sporting bodies to “review, revise and revoke” eligibility rules and regulations that have negative effects on athletes’ rights.

“I hope the European court will put an end to the longstanding human rights violations by World Athletics against women athletes,” Semenya is quoted as saying. “All we ask is to be allowed to run free, for once and for all, as the strong and fearless women we are and always have been.”


Semenya’s lawyers will argue that what World Athletics has done, and what the CAS has upheld, is effectively a human rights violation, reports Daily Maverick. Their preparation has been thorough and time-consuming. It has taken six months to file a huge volume of supporting documentation for their case.

“Caster asks the court to find that Switzerland has failed in its positive obligations to protect her against the violation of her rights under the European Convention on Human Rights, as a result of World Athletics’ continuing discriminatory attempts to restrict the ability of certain women to participate in female athletics competitions‚” a statement from Semenya’s lawyers Gregory Nott and Patrick Bracher‚ and Paris-based Christian Dargham, read.

“Caster’s application continues her challenge to the demeaning and intrusive regulations implemented by World Athletics in 2018 which prohibit some women athletes with naturally higher levels of testosterone from participating in international competitions.”

Daily Maverick reports that although all the papers have been filed on time and within the regulations of the court, it is unlikely that Semenya’s case will be heard, let alone finalised, before the Olympics start on 23 July this year.

Both Semenya and her lawyers have accepted that there is only a slim chance this case will be finalised before the Olympics, but it’s not only about one event. It will be a test case for DSD athletes in future.

“As there are many cases before this court, it is unlikely that this hearing will take place before the Tokyo Games,” Nott is quoted in the report as saying.

“We have asked that this case have an expedited hearing, but I’d say it’s only an equal odds chance of being heard in time on an expedited basis. That’s because there are so many torture and other related cases before the court. So, we are not holding our breath.

“We have gone through an enormous amount of work to lodge the appeal, though, and we did it timeously within the six-month period from when the SFT judgment was handed down.”


[link url=""]Full Time report (Open access)[/link]


[link url=""]Tweet[/link]


[link url=""]UN report[/link]


[link url=""]Full Daily Maverick report (Open access)[/link]



See also MedicalBrief archives:

[link url=""]Semenya loses appeal against testosterone reduction[/link]


[link url=""]Semenya row: Study shows testosterone boosts female athletic performance[/link]


[link url=""]Sama backs Caster against the IAAF on hormone manipulation[/link]


[link url=""]WMA asks doctors not to help lower female athletes’ testosterone levels[/link]


[link url=""]Experts call for BJSM study on intersex athletes to be retracted[/link]


[link url=""]Caster wins Olympic gold and runs into another medical storm[/link]

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