Caster Semenya, a South African middle-distance runner and two-time Olympic champion, saw her career and love of running imperiled when she lost a case in April against the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) at the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS). At issue is the IAAF’s controversial new eligibility rules that would require Ms. Semenya to lower her natural testosterone level in order to compete in international competitions over certain distances.
She quickly turned to Sidley for help with an appeal of the CAS ruling. Dr. Dorothee Schramm and David Roney of Sidley’s Geneva office achieved a quick first success in the form of temporary relief for the runner when the Federal Supreme Court of Switzerland ordered the IAAF on May 31 to immediately suspend implementation of the eligibility regulations against Ms. Semenya, and reconfirmed this order on June 12.
Ms. Semenya, 28, who is for the time being allowed to compete, participated in and won the 800-meter race at the Prefontaine Classic on June 30. “I am thankful to the Swiss judges for this decision. I hope that following my appeal I will once again be able to run free,” she said.
The “IAAF Eligibility Regulations for Female Classification (Athletes with Differences of Sex Development (DSD))” took effect on May 8. Under the new rules, Ms. Semenya, and other female athletes affected, would be required to submit to unnecessary and unwanted hormonal drug intervention to reduce their natural testosterone levels to take part in certain women’s events in international competitions.
Schramm and Roney, both partners in the firm’s Global Arbitration, Trade and Advocacy practice, said Ms. Semenya’s appeal asks Switzerland’s highest court to find that the IAAF’s requirements for compulsory drug interventions violate essential and widely recognized public policy values. “This is about the very core of Swiss public policy, in particular the prohibition against discrimination, the right to physical integrity, the right to economic freedom and respect for human dignity,” said Schramm. “In the race for justice, human rights must win over sporting interests,” she said.
Schramm and Roney welcome the Swiss court’s decision to grant Ms. Semenya temporary protection. “The Swiss Federal Supreme Court’s preliminary decision to suspend application of the IAAF’s regulations is not common and underlines the importance of the rights and values at stake in this landmark appeal,” said Roney.
The Swiss court is expected to issue a further ruling on the continued suspension of the IAAF regulations after receiving additional submissions from the IAAF.