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South African Runner Loses Appeal Over Restriction Of Testosterone Levels In Athletes


Two-time Olympic gold medalist Caster Semenya has lost her appeal against World Athletics. Last year, track's governing body introduced guidelines that call for the restriction of testosterone in female athletes and athletes with differences in sexual development. Those guidelines mean Semenya would have to take testosterone-reducing drugs in order to compete in races from 400 meters to a mile. She has refused and has appealed the case multiple times. Now the Federal Supreme Court in Switzerland has dismissed Semenya's appeal, which likely means she will be unable to defend her Olympic title next year. Here to talk more about the case is espn.com writer Katie Barnes.


KATIE BARNES: Hi. Thanks for having me.

CHANG: Thanks for being with us. So was this loss a surprise to you?

BARNES: No. Other reporting that I have done over the last couple of years indicated that people were expecting the Swiss court to uphold the ruling from the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

CHANG: OK. Well, Semenya has been pretty public about the fact that she will not be reducing her testosterone levels. So now that her appeal has been dismissed, does she have any other options for competing at this point?

BARNES: Not in her specific specialty events. So she will not be able to compete in the 400, the 800, the 1,500 or the mile in the events that are governed by World Athletics, including, then also, the Olympics. She has announced - she did so back in March - that she would be competing in the 200-meter event. She has not posted a qualifying time, but she is hoping to do so. And this is one instance where, in some ways, the pandemic was actually helpful in terms of delaying the Olympics for a year. That was beneficial for Caster.

CHANG: Right. OK. Well, just remind us, for those of us who have not been following this case, what was the reasoning behind these testosterone regulations in the first place?

BARNES: So this is just another step in an ongoing battle that - around, you know, who gets to be a woman in sports. Ever since women have started competing, there have been regulations on what that competition will look like and what it means to qualify in the women's category. And so what happened was World Athletics, over the course of the last decade, has been looking to introduce regulations that govern testosterone levels in people competing in the women's category. And so these specific regulations target women who have the typical 46 - the typical number of chromosomes, which is 46, but their chromosomal makeup is XY, which is atypical for people who are assigned female at birth, and then also have differences in sex development. So it's a very specific group of people that World Athletics is arguing...

CHANG: Right.

BARNES: ...Is overrepresented within its winners.

CHANG: The idea being that elevated testosterone levels do - gives physical advantages, right? People who have elevated testosterone levels who have this chromosomal makeup may have certain advantages that are unfair.

BARNES: Correct. And, specifically, because we're talking about people who have a chromosomal makeup that is typically associated with those who are assigned male at birth, being XY. So the idea is that these particular women have the testosterone levels that mirror what we see...

CHANG: Right.

BARNES: ...In male competitors and, therefore, have similar levels of competitive advantage.

CHANG: That is espn.com writer Katie Barnes.

Thank you.

BARNES: You're welcome.

(SOUNDBITE OF DYLAN SITTS' "PEPPERMINT") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.