In recent years, the issue of gender and athletics has been thrust into the global spotlight, with South African middle-distance runner Caster Semenya becoming the centre of a heated court battle. The case surrounding Semenya’s eligibility to compete has sparked intense debates, raising significant questions about the intersection of gender, biology, and fair competition in sports. In this blog post, we will delve into Caster Semenya’s victory in the European Court of Human Rights.


Caster Semenya, a South African athlete, rose to prominence in the track and field world after winning the 800-meter race at the 2009 World Championships in Berlin. Her athletic dominance on the track drew attention, leading to speculation about her biological sex and testosterone levels.

Semenya is known as a DSD (difference in sexual development) athlete because she has an intersex trait known as hyperandrogenism, resulting in naturally higher testosterone levels compared to the average female athlete. It has been proven that elevated testosterone levels provide the athlete with an unfair advantage over her competitors, particularly in events where speed and endurance are crucial.

The Court Battle

In 2018, the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) introduced regulations requiring female athletes with naturally high testosterone levels. These athletes had to maintain a blood testosterone level of below five nmol/l for a continuous period of at least six months before competing in a number of restricted events. These regulations directly targeted Semenya and other female athletes with similar biological profiles.

Semenya has been challenging the IAAF’s regulations in court, arguing that they were discriminatory and violated her rights.

The European Court of Human Rights recently ruled in her favour. They held that the South African 800m gold medallist had been discriminated against by sports rules that force her to medically reduce her natural hormone levels to compete in major competitions.


The case will not result in an immediate change in the sport’s rules. The ruling merely opened the way for the Swiss supreme court to reconsider its previous decision in favour of the IAAF. It will be a long time until we see a change in the laws affecting this area.  However, the case has brought to the forefront important discussions surrounding gender, biology, and fairness in athletics.

For further information on this topic or on any other legal area, please contact John Szepietowski or Kay Stewart at Audley Chaucer Solicitors on 01372 303444 or email or visit our LinkedIn page at

Author John Szepietowski

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