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 2019 against World Athletics—formerly known as the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF)—at the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS). At issue is World Athletics’ controversial new eligibility rules that 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 World Athletics on May 31, 2019 to immediately suspend implementation of the eligibility regulations against Ms. Semenya, and reconfirmed this order on June 12, 2019. This enabled Ms. Semenya, 28, to temporarily resume competition and win the 800-meter race at the Prefontaine Classic on June 30, 2019.
On July 29, 2019, a single judge of the Swiss Supreme Court denied Ms. Semenya’s request to maintain the suspension of the CAS ruling in place during the entire appeal proceedings, which would have been rare under Swiss law. While this means that Ms. Semenya will be unable to compete internationally while her appeal is pending, she said, “... this will not deter me from continuing my fight for the human rights of all of the female athletes concerned.”
The “IAAF Eligibility Regulations for Female Classification (Athletes with Differences of Sex Development (DSD))” took effect on May 8, 2019. Under the new rules, Ms. Semenya, and other female athletes affected, are 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 World Athletics’ 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.
The Swiss Supreme Court is currently considering Ms. Semenya’s appeal and is expected to render a decision soon.