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Athletics: Caster Semenya pleads her case again before the ECHR

Deprived of competition due to her particularly high testosterone levels, South African athlete Caster Semenya, 33, pleads her case again before the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) on Wednesday, “confident” of the 'take away.

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Athletics: Caster Semenya pleads her case again before the ECHR

Deprived of competition due to her particularly high testosterone levels, South African athlete Caster Semenya, 33, pleads her case again before the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) on Wednesday, “confident” of the 'take away.

“This is an important day in my journey as a human being and an athlete. It took a long time to happen,” Ms. Semenya said in a statement sent by her lawyers.

“In 2009, I stood on the top step of the podium at the World Championships in Berlin straight after a sex exam and knowing that the world was judging my body and questioning my gender. For 15 years, I have persevered with dignity in the face of oppression,” she continued, saying she was “confident” before the hearing.

Double Olympic champion (2012, 2016) and triple world champion (2009, 2011 and 2017) in the 800m, Caster Semenya naturally produces a lot of male hormones (androgens), which are likely to increase muscle mass and improve performances.

Revealed to the general public at the 2009 World Championships in Berlin, she won the gold medal in the 800 meters. His physical appearance and deep voice sparked debate and speculation.

The athlete was banned from competition for 11 months and forced to undergo medical tests, the results of which remained secret, before finally being allowed to race again in July 2010.

But in 2018, the International Athletics Federation (World Athletics) required hyperandrogenic athletes to lower their testosterone levels through hormonal treatment to be able to participate in international competitions in the women's category. What Caster Semenya refuses.

This regulation was validated by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (based in Switzerland) in 2019, then confirmed by the Federal Court of Lausanne, which in August 2020 highlighted “the fairness of competitions” as a “cardinal principle of sport”, in grounds that testosterone levels comparable to those of men give female athletes “an insurmountable advantage”

The South African athlete's appeals against these two institutions were rejected but she won her case before the ECHR on July 11.

The court, which ensures compliance with the European Convention on Human Rights, found that Semenya had been the victim of discrimination and a violation of her private life.

However, the Swiss authorities, supported by World Athletics, referred the matter to the Grand Chamber of the ECHR, a sort of appeal body. They highlighted the fact that the first instance judgment of the ECHR had only been handed down by a narrow majority of four judges to three.

On Wednesday, the 17 judges making up the Grand Chamber will examine the case during a hearing which is scheduled to begin at 9:15 a.m. (07:15 GMT) and last all morning.

Their decision, which will be final, will not be known for several months.

Although the judgment handed down last July represented a victory for the athlete, it did not invalidate the World Athletics regulations and did not directly open the way for Semenya to participate in the 800m without treatment.

World Athletics even tightened its regulations in 2023 concerning hyperandrogenic athletes, who must now maintain their testosterone level below the threshold of 2.5 nanomoles per liter for 24 months (instead of 5 nanomoles for six months) to compete in the category. feminine, whatever the distance.

This long legal drama has an enormous financial cost for Caster Semenya, who has not run since March 2023 - a 5,000 m and a 10,000 m in a South African competition - and launched an appeal for donations in February.

Its South African counsel, who work pro bono, had estimated that the hearing costs could amount to some 170,000 euros.

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