On the opening morning of the sporting trial of the century, Caster Semenya ran unnoticed through Lausanne’s old town to clear her mind. Then, knowing her career was potentially on the line, she stood up at the court of arbitration for sport and made the speech of her life. “When I was 18 years old, I won gold at the 2009 world championships in Berlin,” she said. “It should have been a great moment. But sadly it was tarnished.”
How could it not be when a fellow 800m finalist, the Italian Elisa Cusma, had told reporters: “For me, she’s not a woman, she’s a man.” Or when Semenya then had to take medication to reduce her testosterone in order to compete for years afterwards? No wonder she told Cas that she was relieved when the IAAF’s previous hyperandrogenism rules had been overturned in 2015.
And now she was resuming hostilities against a familiar enemy, the IAAF, over new rules requiring athletes with differences in sex development (DSDs) to take hormone suppressants to compete internationally at events between 400m and a mile. Semenya, the reigning Olympic 800m champion, insisted these rules discriminate against her. On Wednesday Cas decided she was right. There was discrimination. However there was a brutal sting in the tail. By a 2-1 majority it ruled that the policy was also “necessary, reasonable and proportionate” to ensure fair competition in women’s sport.
The case is widely regarded as being the most complex and contentious one in Cas’s 35-year history. However, apart from a short statement, little has come out about the drama that went on behind closed doors. But the Guardian has spoken to more than half a dozen eyewitnesses to gain an unparalleled insight into a case that touched on so many areas – including science and sociology, gender and genetics, health issues and medical ethics – and also split sport and society right down the middle.
Given the extraordinarily high stakes it was no surprise that each side came tooled up with many world-leading experts. Semenya even had two legal teams, one from Canada and the other from South Africa, while more than 200,000 words of evidence were filed before the case even began.
In the months beforehand, Semenya’s team had been confident. After all, they had two big trump cards. First, when Cas heard the case of the Indian sprinter Dutee Chand in 2015 it put the onus on the IAAF to show exactly how much high testosterone helped DSD athletes. Second, they knew the evidence the IAAF had subsequently published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine contained a number of errors. Read more via Guardian