There are some news stories that seem never ending, and Caster Semenya’s is a case in point.

The South African 800m specialist has been at the top of her sport for more than a decade but ever since she won her first world title in 2009, questions have been raised about her sex.

Semenya competes as a female but was forced to take a gender verification test and although the full results were never made public, rumours abounded that she possessed both male and female characteristics, as well as higher than normal levels of testosterone.

A decade on, and we are still no closer to an acceptable solution, a point which was brought to light last week with the news that Semenya’s lawyers are taking her case to the European Court of Human Rights, which is highly unusual when it comes to a sporting dispute.

The issue is that following years of unrest about Semenya, as well as a number of other female middle-distance runners who have, it has been suggested, higher than usual levels of testosterone, World Athletics ruled they must artificially lower their naturally-occurring high levels of the hormone.

Semenya was, understandably, outraged at this ruling but having lost appeals in both the Court of Arbitration for Sport last year and Switzerland’s supreme court a few months ago, this appeal appears to be a last-ditch attempt to reverse the ruling.

This is an impossible situation. From an outsider’s point of view, it seems grossly unfair that Semenya, about whom there is universal agreement that her higher-than-normal testosterone levels are naturally occurring, should be forced to take a drug to alter her natural state.

On the other hand, it is easy to see why her rivals, which include Scotland’s Lynsey Sharp, feel they are competing on a less-than-even playing field.

The troubling aspect of Semenya’s case is there will be no outcome which satisfies everyone. The current rules, which force female athletes competing in events between the 400m and the mile to artificially lower their testosterone levels, has been contentious from day one.

It is easy to compare Semenya’s natural advantage with the likes of Usain Bolt’s longer-than-average legs or any of the marathon runners’ high VO2 max. With no rules being introduced for these athletes it appears Semenya is being unfairly targeted.

Certainly, if she had not been so successful, collecting three World and two Olympic titles, it seems unlikely these rules would have been forced into place.

But, argue those who support World Athletics’ testosterone-level ruling, without certain parameters, female sport become a free-for-all.

Often Semenya’s case is conflated with that of transgender athletes, who must take testosterone-suppressing drugs in order to compete as females. But these two issues are, in the main, unrelated.

Semenya has, she says, been “destroyed… mentally and physically” by the ordeal of attempting to overturn World Athletics’ rules.

She has suggested she will target the 200m at the Tokyo Olympics, which would exempt her from having to lower her testosterone levels.

It is a messy situation and one which, Semenya’s lawyer Greg Nott admits, is unlikely to be resolved before next summer’s Olympic Games. There has, though, been growing support for his client’s cause from institutions and bodies across the globe. He said all of Africa’s human rights commissions had now expressed support for the athlete following a previous announcement by the UN Human Rights Council backing Semenya last year.

It is always sad when sport is not decided on the track or the field, but instead inside a courtroom. Regardless of the court’s decision on Semenya though, the debate will likely never end over the fairness, or not, of the participation of her, and all female athletes like her.


The announcement by UK Sport that they plan to more than double the number of female coaches by the 2024 Olympics is a welcome, but overdue one.

Currently, a mere 10 per cent of coaching positions across UK Sport-funded British Olympic and Paralympic programmes are held by women, which is a shockingly low figure.

Within the next four years, the aim is to increase that to 25 per cent which although still too low, would be a significant improvement.

The figures highlight just how difficult it is to break into elite coaching for female coaches. There are a number of challenges that stand in their way and while there are few who would suggest female coaches do not have much to give, there is still, in some quarters, a subconscious, or even conscious bias, that females should only coach females.

This is, of course, preposterous, with examples such as Olympic swimming champion Adam Peaty’s coach, Mel Marshall, the most obvious that springs to mind.

But other cases are harder to identify, which is another challenge as there is a real dearth of role models for aspiring female coaches to look up to.

This initiative by UK Sport will help that, but even if the 25 per cent target is hit, there will still be a long way to go.