CAPE TOWN – Caster Semenya is listed to compete at next week's world championships in Eugene, Oregon, potentially setting up a surprise return to the big stage for the two-time Olympic champion who is still banned from her favorite race, and still at the heart of one of sport's most contentious issues.
That issue, whether women with intersex conditions should be allowed to compete in female events, has been bubbling again in recent weeks but will be front and center at Hayward Field — the spiritual home of U.S. track and field — if Semenya runs.
Semenya was listed on Friday for the women's 5,000 meters, an event she has turned to after being barred from her preferred 800 meters by regulations affecting women with conditions that cause high natural testosterone.
Semenya's inclusion on a competitor list for Eugene released by World Athletics was unexpected after she didn't make the qualifying time for the 5,000 and was not included in the South Africa team named this week for the worlds. The 31-year-old Semenya is not expected to win a medal in the 5,000 as her personal best in the long-distance race is well off the world's leading runners. But her presence will be enough to spark more intrigue.
NBC reported Semenya was moved up onto the list for the worlds after some higher-ranked runners didn't enter the 5,000. South Africa's track federation and Semenya's representatives didn't immediately respond to requests for clarification.
If she runs, it will be the first time Semenya has appeared at a world championships or Olympics since 2017, when she won her third world title in the 800. She also has two Olympic golds over two laps but has been banned from running in races from 400 meters to one mile since 2019 under rules that exclude women who have an intersex condition called 46,XY difference in sex development.
The rules demand the women affected undergo medical intervention to lower their natural hormone levels to below a certain threshold if they want to run in those races. That's because World Athletics says high testosterone gives DSD athletes an unfair advantage in female races. Semenya and other runners who fall under the rules have declined to lower their natural testosterone and have been forced to compete in other unregulated events for the last three years.
While Semenya has been the face of the testosterone battle for over a decade, and recently began to speak about her experiences, she's not the only athlete affected by the DSD rules. Francine Niyonsaba of Burundi, a silver medalist behind Semenya in the 800 at the 2016 Olympics, has also been forced to change to the 5,000 meters. Niyonsaba is also listed to run in the 5,000 in Eugene, and is a medal contender, meaning that event will likely draw huge attention.
Two other athletes, Christine Mboma and Beatrice Masilingi, were last year banned from the 400 meters because of high natural testosterone. Both teenagers, they changed to the 200 meters at the Tokyo Olympics, their first major event, and shocked when Mboma won the silver medal and Masilingi finished sixth in the final. Mboma will miss the worlds with injury but Masilingi will compete in the 200 again.
Semenya’s reappearance at a worlds would come just as athletics authorities are considering more changes to their DSD regulations that might go so far as to completely exclude women athletes with 46,XY DSD and high natural testosterone from all female events at major meets.
World Athletics president Sebastian Coe has said it will discuss both its transgender and DSD regulations at the end of the year, a move possibly sparked by swimming banning transgender women from female events last month.
The transgender and DSD issues are different but often have crossover because they both deal with the same basic question: If high natural testosterone — higher than the typical female range — gives transgender women and DSD athletes an unfair advantage in female sport?
Semenya is not transgender. She was assigned female at birth, raised as a girl and identifies as a woman. She has never publicly identified herself as intersex — that is, having both male and female traits — or as having the 46,XY DSD condition. However, she essentially acknowledged having the condition by appealing the DSD rules at the Court of Arbitration for Sport in 2018. She lost that case and a second appeal, and is pursuing a third challenge against the rules at the European Court of Human Rights.
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