Sidelined South African athletics star Caster Semenya has said that she will continue her legal battle to return to the track and “maintain her dignity and destroy oppression”, but will require funding for her mission.
The two-time Olympic gold medalist and three-time world champion over 800m stated in a special, self-penned essay for the New York Times that she is relying on the European Court of Human Rights to win her fight against a 2018 ruling that women like her who have excessive testosterone levels must take certain drugs to keep competing in certain distances.
She claimed the ruling targeted her and that her “principled” refusal to take the testosterone-reducing medication meant that she had to forget her dream of defending her gold medals from the 2012 and 2016 Olympics at the 2020 Games, which took place this year because of Covid-19.
“I wanted to compete again in the Olympics and get one step closer to my goal of becoming the greatest female 800m runner of all time. But I didn’t get to run in Tokyo. I am furious, sad and disappointed that I was denied the opportunity by a 2018 World Athletics ruling, based on a 2017 report that was recanted right after the Tokyo Games,” the powerfully-built runner said in the article.
“The news of the ruling shattered me. More than that, I felt indignant. As a woman, I should be in control of my own body. Why should I have to take hormone-altering substances just so I can compete in my chosen profession?”
However, she has lost two important legal fights against the ruling so far — at the Court of Arbitration for Sport, known as CAS, based in Lausanne, Switzerland and the Swiss Supreme Court, which has the authority to overturn CAS decisions.
She also failed in her attempt to achieve the Olympic qualifying time for the 5 000m, which would not have required drug-taking ahead of Tokyo 2020. Those developments on and off the track left her shattered and the only hope remaining is the European Court of Human Rights, which is likely to hear the matter next year.
“The courts are where I have to fight my battles now. Some of my lawyers have offered their services free of charge, but it has been a drain on my resources, and I will need support to continue the fight,” she said.
After the setbacks so far, her legal team said there’s one more card up their sleeve: challenge the Swiss ruling at the European Court of Human Rights.
“There, the South African Human Rights Commission will support my stance as a concerned party. They submit that ‘no adaptation, negation, nor self-abnegation is necessary’. This means that the rules compelling me to take hormones to lower my natural testosterone levels and alter my natural state are an infringement on my human dignity,” said Semenya.
She further claimed that her troubles have made her stronger.
“Setbacks are part of what it takes to become a great athlete. I have also had to endure insults and humiliations from a world that very publicly questioned my identity. I know about maintaining dignity and hope in the face of oppression. My goal now is to win my legal case. For me, as a woman, as a human being fighting a cruel injustice, victory would be sweet, as sweet as any I have achieved on the track,” she said.