Tokyo Olympics: Caster Semenya’s lawyers demand answers for "misleading" study

Caster Semenya's lawyers have questioned World Athletics after a report found the governing body's study into DSD athletes was "misleading"

Caster Semenya’s lawyers have demanded answers from World Athletics after the governing body admitted flaws in their research into athletes with Differences of Sexual Development (DSD).

World Athletics’ Health and Science Department director Stephane Bermon and his predecessor Pierre-Yves Garnier published a report this week, revealing the findings of a study into DSD athletes were not “confirmatory” and “could have been misleading”.

The study was conducted by World Athletics in 2017 and led to the implementation of new DSD regulations in 2018. The rules prohibit athletes with DSD from competing at distances between 400 metres to a mile, unless they take hormone-reducing drugs.

Semenya, a two-time Olympic gold medallist in the 800m, refused to take hormone-reducing drugs and was subsequently not able to defend her title at Tokyo 2020.

After unsuccessful appeals at the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) and Switzerland’s Federal Supreme Court, Semenya is currently awaiting a hearing at the European Court of Human Rights.

What did the new World Athletics report say?

In the new report, Bermon and Garnier revealed their findings are “on a lower level of evidence” and should be viewed as “exploratory, nothing else, that is, not confirmatory or evidence for a causal relationship.”

“With this in mind, we recognise that statements in the paper could have been misleading by implying a causal inference,” the report said.

“Specifically, ‘Female athletes with high fT [testosterone] levels have a significant competitive advantage over those with low fT in 400m, 400m hurdles, 800m, hammer throw, and pole vault.’

“This statement should be amended to: ‘High fT levels in female athletes were associated with higher athletic performance over those with low fT in 400m, 400m hurdles, 800m, hammer throw, and pole vault.’

Caster Semenya was prohibited from contesting the 800m at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games

What have Caster Semenya’s lawyers said?

“This is very significant new information,” said Semenya’s lawyer Gregory Nott, of Norton Rose Fulbright, as reported by Telegraph Sport.

“We are in the midst of the European Court of Human Rights case and will be discussing with our London QC and the whole legal team how to introduce the information into the proceedings.

“World Athletics have recently given notice of their wish to intervene in the European Court of Human Rights proceedings and we would hope that they will now support setting aside the regulations.

“It is more than surprising that World Athletics did not reveal this evidence before the recent Tokyo Olympics and allow Caster to defend her 800m title.”

In response, World Athletics said the information in the “correction” was not new and had been taken into account by CAS during Semenya’s appeal.

South Africa's Caster Semenya is a two-time Olympic 800m champion

What will happen to DSD regulations in the future?

Some scientists have called for the World Athletics DSD regulations to be scrapped following the new report.

Roger Pielke Jr, one of the publishers of the 2019 International Sports Law Journal paper arguing the original World Athletics evidence was “flawed”, told Telegraph Sport:

“Corrections are common in research, as scientists are human and make mistakes, like anyone else,” he said. “But one of the most important features of science is that it is self-correcting, and mistakes are identified, admitted and corrected.

“But the correction published today is not simply the admission of an error in an inconsequential paper, it is an admission of error by World Athletics in the only empirical analysis which underpins its eligibility regulations for female athletes. The implications are massive.”

Christine Mboma finished with a silver medal in the 200m at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games

Earlier this month, World Athletics President Sebastian Coe claimed Christine Mboma’s Olympic silver medal in the women’s 200m showed the governing body’s DSD regulations were correct. The Namibian was contesting the 200m after she was prohibited from running in the 400m.

“It was pretty observable that the last 30 or 40 metres were impactful,” Coe said of Mboma’s run. “But, actually, I think that vindicated the decision about 400. If you are finishing a 200m like that, you extend the runway… That in a way supports the judgement that was made.”

“You’re never going to satisfy everybody. But what I did want to do was find a navigable route through, which was testosterone control. Some athletes have decided to follow that regime. Other athletes have decided to go distances either side. I still think it’s the right decision.”

Athlete rights activist Payoshni Mitra contrasted Coe’s comments about Mboma with those he made regarding Britain’s Keely Hodgkinson, who made “spectacular” progress to clinch silver in the 800m.

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