Zoom seminar Tuesday February 23rd 5:30 pm CET: “The legacy of Caster Semenya: Unfair Advantages, Equality of Opportunity and The Construction of Categories in Sport”


On September 8th, 2020, South African middle-distance Caster Semenya lost her appeal to the Swiss Federal Supreme Court against the World Athletics regulations restricting testosterone levels in female runners.[1]. This was the last episode of an international legal case which was ignited at the Berlin World Track Championship in 2009, and lasted more than ten years, seeing two legal appeals brought to the Swiss Court for Arbitration in Sport against World Athletics, one in 2015 (CAS 2015); and one in 2019 (CAS 2019). The judgment of the 2020 Swiss Federal Court is also likely to seal Semenya’s track and field career, as there is no higher judicial body for appealing the decision.

While both her legal case and professional track & field career may have come to their conclusions, Semenya’s case has generated an intricate web of unresolved questions for classification in sport centered around the kernel of: What counts as unfair advantage in sport?

In this talk I aim to disentangle this key issue by providing a critical analysis of the legal framing of the key CAS ruling; and by comparing the specific property advantages of Caster Semenya and Eero Mäntyranta, a Finnish a cross‐country skier active in the 1960s with an exceptionally high haematocrit level (60). I will examine whether there is a relevant difference between their property advantages that would justify treating the athletes differently[2]. I will propose the criterion of ‘equality of opportunity’ within the same category as a local criterion of fairness under certain conditions. I will argue that its proper application beyond Semenya’s property advantage requires opening up the discussion on the justification of existing categories in sport. This is, beyond the conclusion of her ten-years legal battle, the legacy of Caster Semenya for international sports regulation.

[1] https://apnews.com/article/switzerland-track-and-field-archive-courts-caster-semenya-bd69bc7ea983d9a1959813402d3d3472

[2] https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/bioe.12827

The recording of the webinar is now available here:

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