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NEWS FEATURE Gender issues continue in Olympic athletics ahead of Semenya debut By John Bagratuni, dpa

Europe
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Caster Semenya is the top favourite for the 800m gold in Rio but her fast times this year have stirred up a gender debate again - in connection with a CAS ruling that outlaws a testosterone cap on intersex athletes.

Rio de Janeiro (dpa) - The women‘s Olympic 800 metres heats start on Wednesday amid growing fears that a reignited gender debate will explode once Saturday‘s final has been contested - with unforeseen consequences.

South Africa‘s Caster Semenya is the big favourite and it is not being ruled out that she can attack the mark of 1 minute 53.28 seconds Czech Jarmina Kratochvilova ran just over 33 years ago in July 1983.

The 25-year-old is running consistent fast times again this year after several modest seasons, topping the season list with 1:55.33 which puts her 12th on the all-time list. She has also run 1:65.64 twice this year.

Semenya burst onto the scene in 2009 as a teenager with superfast times and a world title in Berlin.

But at the same meet it was revealed by the ruling body IAAF that she had been asked to undergo gender tests.

Far from being handled well by the IAAF and her South African federation the tests have allegedly revealed that she has an intersex condition, or hyperandrogenism.

Neither she nor the IAAF have ever confirmed this.

Semenya was allowed to continue competing in the women‘s field but it is widely believed she had to take medication to lower her testosterone to a 10 level according to new IAAF rules for a level playing field, which may have contributed to her poorer results.

She is now believed to have improved again because she does not have to lower the testosterone level anymore after the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) dismissed this in an interim ruling last year.

The CAS said the IAAF could not fully prove that the limit is "necessary and proportionate to pursue the legitimate objective eligibility to compete in female athletics to ensure fairness in athletic competition."

The CAS has given the IAAF two years to come up with stronger arguments or it will abolish the rule.

This prompted the International Olympoic Committee (IOC) to call on the IAAF and other sports bodies "to revert to CAS with arguments and evidence to support the reinstatement of its hyperandrogenism rules."

The case was initiated by Indian intersex athlete Dutee Chand who went out in the 100m heats on Saturday in Rio.

The CAS ruling and Semenya‘s fast times have now led to a huge controversy on how the nullification of the testosterone cap affects the sport.

"In the present, the Chand ruling can be seen as a victory for human rights. In the future, it could become a defeat for women‘s sports," Sports Illustrated said in its latest edition.

The New Yorker spoke of "a competitive issue not a human rights issue."

American doctor Joanna Harper, who has been on IOC panels and herself is transgender, told the sportsscientists.com website she opposes the CAS ruling and rather supports the IOC and IAAF "to create a de facto athletic gender by preventing those athletes who carry a large testosterone-based advantage from competing against the vast majority of women."

Harper said she believes that intersex athletes could make up several medallists in Rio, which could cause controversy.

"It is very possible that we could see an all intersex podium in the 800 in Rio, and I wouldn‘t be surprised to see as many as five intersex women in the eight-person final. There are potential intersex medallists in other running events too," Harper said.

The IAAF has not commented since a statement in the wake of the CAS ruling but is believed to have similar fears.

However, there are also other voices such as bioethicist Silvia Camporesi who said in an article widely published over the past days that "setting a limit on hyperandrogenism and singling it out from other biological variations that may confer an advantage is - at best - an inconsistent policy.

"There are plenty of other variations - biological and genetic alike - that are not regulated by the IAAF and, even though advantageous for athletic performance, are not considered unfair for competition."

Back in South Africa, meanwhile, the African National Congress Women‘s League (ANCWL) on the weekend sharply condemned what it says is an unfair media coverage, saying it was designed to "perpetrate a view that an African woman has no capacity to excel in sport."

An ANCWL statement carried by local media added: "Caster Semenya‘s eligibility to compete against other female athletes is not a debatable matter as she was born a girl and no amount of public humiliation can change her gender."

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