Double Olympic 800m champion Caster Semenya said on Wednesday the ruling of the European Court of Human Rights that her human rights were violated by courts in Switzerland is “only the beginning” of a new chapter in her legal fight.
The 32-year-old South African said in a statement she was “elated” by the decision, which “has been a long time coming. Justice has spoken but this is only the beginning,” Semenya said a day after the ruling.
She appealed to the France-based ECHR after the Swiss supreme court rejected her appeal against World Athletics’ rules that she must take medication to lower her testosterone levels if she wishes to continue competing.
Semenya, who is classed as having “differences in sexual development (DSD)” but has always been legally identified as female, has refused to take the drugs since the international federation introduced the rules in 2018.
As a result, she has been barred from competing at her favourite distance of 800m and the rules were extended in March this year, meaning she cannot compete at any distance unless she takes the testosterone-lowering medication.
The ruling in Semenya’s favour is largely symbolic as World Athletics said it stood by its DSD regulations and the ruling does not clear the way for her to return to competition. But Semenya argued that the decision would be “significant for all sportspersons in throwing doubt on the future of all similar rules”.
“I have and will always stand up for discrimination of any kind in sports,” she said, adding: “I have suffered a lot at the hands of the powers that be and have been treated poorly.”
She expressed the hope that the ruling will ensure all sporting bodies “respect the dignity and human rights of the athletes they deal with”.
“My rights violated. My career impacted. All of it so damaging. Mentally, emotionally, physically and financially,” she said, without hinting at her next steps. In response to Semenya’s statement, World Athletics underlined that her case was brought not against the federation, but against the Swiss state.
“As the global governing body of athletics, we must and do consider the human rights of all our athletes,” the federation said. Sport regulations by their very nature restrict people’s rights. When those rights are i conflict, it is our duty to decide if that restriction justifies the aim, which in this case is to protect female sport.
World Athletics continued: “We believe the DSD regulations are a necessary, reasonable and proportionate means of protecting fair competition in the female category, as the Court of Arbitration for Sport and Swiss Federal Tribunal both found, after a detailed and expert assessment of the evidence.
Semenya won Olympic gold at the 2012 London Games and at Rio in 2016 and has also won three world titles. In her long-drawn legal tussle, she has twice failed in legal appeals to overturn the decision in the Court of Arbitration for Sport in 2019 and three years ago in Switzerland.
In their ruling Tuesday, the seven ECHR judges found by a majority of four to three that Semenya’s rights under Article 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which concerns discrimination, had been violated by Switzerland.
The court concluded she had not been given “sufficient institutional and procedural safeguards” in Switzerland for her complaints to be “examined effectively”.
Antoine Duval, a senior researcher in sports law at the Asser Institute in the Hague, said the ECHR’s decision “potentially opens the way to a new procedure at the Court of Arbitration for Sport”.` It remains to be seen if Caster Semenya will have the financial means, the strength and the will to continue her fight,” he told AFP.
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