The Work

July 6, 2010 11:26 AM

In a Victory for Dewey, Semenya Can Compete

Posted by Zach Lowe

Caster_Semenya_web One of the most interesting sports law cases of the last few years has been resolved: Caster Semenya, the 19-year-old record-setting South African runner, has been reinstated to international competition after a forced 11-month absence while international authorities debated her gender, according to the Associated Press

The governing body of international track and field has accepted a recommendation from a panel of medical experts that Semenya, who burst onto the scene by winning the 800-meter race at the world championships last August, should be allowed to compete in future competitions. Semenya underwent gender tests after suspicions arose that she may have elevated levels of testosterone or other unfair advantages over female competitors. The results of those tests are unclear and confidential, the AP says. 

Either way, the ruling is a huge win for Semenya and her legal team at Dewey & LeBoeuf, who represented her pro bono. Dewey and lead partner Jeffrey Kessler got into the case after the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) ordered Semenya to undergo tests, and after South Africa's athletics authority was rumored to have conducted its own tests on Semenya.

Kessler, who was traveling this morning and unavailable for comment, told us last year he was mostly concerned about whether the IAAF followed proper testing protocols, what those protocols were, and whether either the IAAF or South African authorities violated Semenya's privacy rights in conducting any tests, according to our prior reporting. Kessler labeled "inaccurate" a summer 2009 press report that claimed initial tests showed Semenya is intersex and does not have ovaries or a uterus. 

In that interview, Kessler would not discuss any test results, but he had an interesting take on how those results should be interpreted. In essence, he told us that--short of a finding that Semenya is actually a man--she should not be punished unless she is revealed to have done something illegal or artificial to give herself an unfair edge.

"Every superlative athlete in the world has some genetic advantage," Kessler told us. "There's a reason Michael Jordan could jump as high as he could. Sports have never been about genetic equality. This whole inquiry to determine things like whether an athlete has too much or too little testosterone goes against the whole fundamental nature that sports is about different people who have different advantages."

Photo: Wikimedia Commons/Erik van Leeuwen

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