Semenya is hyperandrogenous – meaning she has naturally high levels of testosterone – and is fighting against new rules introduced in 2019 by track and field’s governing body World Athletics (WA) – and previously known as the IAAF – that regulate levels of the hormone in female athletes.
World Athletics has this right:
In a statement to CNN, World Athletics said it stood by its rules and research.
“World Athletics has over a decade of research, directly from DSD athletes in our own sport, that show high testosterone levels do provide an unfair advantage in the female category,” World Athletics said.
“The research also shows that the frequency of DSD individuals in the elite athlete population is around 140 times higher than you will find in the general female population. This is why our guidelines on testosterone thresholds are necessary, reasonable, and proportionate to protect the integrity of the female category and have been upheld by two Courts.
“If we don’t protect the female category, then women and young girls will not choose sport.”
DSD athletes are a difficult part of athletics because, among other things, testosterone provides an enormous athletic advantage:
Variations in people’s reproductive anatomy, chromosome patterns or other traits that may not align with typical binary definitions of female or male are what is defined as differences in sex development (DSD).
It is difficult to estimate how many people have DSD traits – many live their entire lives without ever knowing they have one. Scientists estimate as many as one out of every 50 people is born with DSD traits.
In the case of Semenya, the problem is that “she” is not genetically a woman.
“I’m born a woman, but I’m a woman with no uterus. I have no fallopian tubes. I don’t go through menstruation,” Semenya said.
“Yes, I’m different, but it doesn’t make me less of a woman.”
Biology says otherwise. Semenya has the intersex condition 5α-Reductase 2 deficiency, which only affects genetic males. Individuals with this condition have normal male internal structures that are not fully masculinized during the embryo’s development, resulting in external genitalia that appear ambiguous or female at birth. She has XY chromosomes, undescended testes, and naturally high testosterone levels in the typical male range.
Semenya cannot help this any more than anyone else with a DSD condition. Life is not fair, and this is one of those instances. That said, we only compound the unfairness if we open women’s sports to genetic males.