India sprinter Dutee Chand, who first successfully challenged the International Association of Athletics Federation’s hyperandrogenism regulations last year at the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), is confident that South African Caster Semenya will emerge victorious in her fight against rules that would cap testosterone levels for female athletes competing in middle distance events.
Dutee had written an email to Semenya, immediately after the IAAF proposed the new eligibility criteria, offering the star runner her legal team. Semenya’s lawyers from Norton Rose Fulbright are working with Dutee’s team, which was led by James Bunting and Carlos Sayao of the Toronto- based firm Davies.
Dutee calls the time between the suspension and lifting of her ban the “darkest phase of her life” and feels no athlete should be subjected to such “pain and trauma”. The Odisha runner says it would be a tough road for Semenya, but the South African is well equipped to handle it.
“When I took up the fight against the IAAF’s law, I had no clue what it was all about. I was a naive girl from a remote village in Odisha who knew about nothing more than training and competing. I wasn’t prepared at all. Fortunately for Semenya, this won’t be the case. She is already a star and champion who is strong enough to deal with such trials,” Dutee told The Indian Express.
Dutee believes that the overwhelming support Semenya has received will hold her in good stead during this difficult period.
”Semenya has her country backing her and she will come out as a winner for sure. She has faced such backlashes before and these rules are not set in stone, they can change and I am positive they will,” the 23-year-old sprinter added.
The first setback that Dutee faced due to the regulations was in 2014 as an 18-year-old. The promising sprinter was preparing for the Glasgow Commonwealth and Incheon Asian Games. But as fate would have it, the youngster “failed” a hyperandrogenism test which saw her name being axed from the CWG squad and later that for the Asian Games. And thus followed the “ darkest phase of her life” which came to an end when the IAAF removed the hyperandrogenism guidelines.
It’s not only Semenya who has faced questions about her testosterone levels, Francine Niyonsaba of Burundi and Kenya’s Margaret Wambui, the Rio silver and bronze medallists respectively, have been subjected to similar treatment.
Last year, Dutee had reached out to Semenya in her hour of need.
”In April, when I got to know that Semenya was being targeted by the IAAF through their new ruling, I wrote her an email and told her that I could ask my legal team to help her. She replied that it would be good. I shared Semenya’s details with Dr Payoshni Mitra (activist and researcher on gender issues) and asked her to help her,” Dutee told this paper in June last year.
Dutee is no longer the “naive” teenager she once was. She is the fastest woman in the country with two Asiad silver medals. And most importantly, she is a reformer who fought and won her right to run without fear. She hopes the same for her friend Semenya.
“Nobody should undergo what I did. This is not just my and Semenya’s fight. We may be the face of this battle but it’s not just for us but for all women. It’s totally unfair to ask any person to control something that is natural. You can’t call it an advantage. Each person has a different body and it’s not our fault if we are designed this way. Some are taller and stronger genetically and we wouldn’t say they have an unfair advantage over the others, would we?” Dutee said.
Semenya not alone
The South African star, who has four Worlds medals and a gold in the 800m at the Rio Olympics, has received unequivocal support from her government. Sports and Recreation Minister Tokozile Xasa has slammed any proposed regulations calling it a “violation of human rights.” The country’s cricket body has also thrown its weight behind their star.
“We stand here as the cricket fraternity joining all the voices throughout the world, to denounce the IAAF Gender Regulations as an act of discrimination against women in sport. We state categorically and emphatically that women like Caster, who is born with intersex variations, should enjoy the same rights to dignity as all women. We honour, celebrate and recognise the equality of all women in sport,” Cricket South Africa chief executive Thabang Moroe said.