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How much is too much? Court rules that intersex runner Caster Semanya must take hormone-supression drugs to compete as a woman

Caster Semenya of South Africa prepares before the start of the women's 400m during the Yellow Pages Interprovincial final.
Caster Semenya of South Africa prepares before the start of the women's 400m during the Yellow Pages Interprovincial final.
Shaun Roy / Gallo Images/Getty Images

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The sports world's highest court ruled Wednesday that Olympic gold medalist Caster Semenya and other female runners like her with unusually high testosterone must take medication to reduce their levels of the male sex hormone if they want to compete in certain events - a landmark decision with far-reaching ramifications for other women's sports.

In a 2-1 ruling, the Court of Arbitration for Sport upheld proposed rules issued by track's governing body, the IAAF, saying that they are discriminatory but that "such discrimination is a necessary, reasonable and proportionate means" of "preserving the integrity of female athletics."

The IAAF argued that high, naturally occurring levels of testosterone in athletes like Semenya with "intersex" characteristics that don't conform to standard definitions of male and female give them an unfair competitive advantage, and it decreed a maximum level for females.

The court decision could open the way for similar rules in other women's sports where size, speed and power make a difference, such as weightlifting, boxing, swimming, rugby, field hockey and soccer.

The decision means that Semenya, the two-time Olympic champion in the 800 meters, will have to lower her testosterone levels by such means as birth control pills or prostate cancer drugs if she wants to defend her world title in September in Doha, Qatar. Semenya is expected to race in the 800 on Friday at a track meet in Doha in what will be the last world-class event before the new rules apply.

Should Semenya have to take drugs to lower her testosterone? How should sports approach athletes that don’t neatly fit into the binary gender categories?

With files from Associated Press


Madeleine Pape, a former Olympian from Australia who has raced against Semenya in 2009; she just published an op-ed in the Guardian on the IAAF’s decision; current Ph.D. candidate in sociology at the University of Wisconsinari

Rick Maese, sports reporter at the Washington Post