Caster Semenya out of world 5000m as Coe signals tougher female sport rules

Caster Semenya’s first appearance in the world championships since 2017 saw her knocked out without fuss or fanfare after finishing 45 seconds off qualifying for Saturday’s 5000m final.

In temperatures that hit 32C, the South African finished 13th out of 16 runners in her heat in a time of 15 mins 46.12 secs, almost a minute behind the winner, Gudaf Tsegay of Ethiopia.

But she struck an upbeat note afterwards. “I’m cooking,” she told reporters. “It was hot and I could not keep up with the pace.

“I think it is great to be able to run here. Just being able to finish the 5km, for me it is a blessing. I am learning and I am willing to learn even more.”

Semenya had previously won the world title at 800m three times, including in her last appearance at London 2017, but is now barred from running international events from 400m to a mile unless she takes medication to reduce her testosterone levels.

That is because, as a 46 XY athlete with a difference of sex development, the Court of Arbitration of Sport has ruled that Semenya has an advantage over the female competitors against whom she races.

In 2019 when her case came to Cas, it also stated that “athletes with 46 XY DSD are ‘gonadally male’ meaning they have functioning tests that produce sperm and testosterone levels within the normal male range”.

There has been considerable sympathy for Semenya, as she was wrongly assigned as female at birth. However the Cas added that “athletes with a DSD will have exactly the same performance advantages over female athletes as non-DSD male athletes have.” It then quantified that advantage as between 10-12% in running events.

Caster Semenya
Photograph: Martin Rickett/PA

Semenya’s appearance at these world championships came as World Athletics president Sebastian Coe gave his clearest indication yet that the governing body would do more to protect female sport.

“We’ve always been guided by the science, and the science is pretty clear: we know that testosterone is the key determinant in performance,” he said.

“I’m really over having any more of these discussions with second-rate sociologists who sit there trying to tell me or the science community that there may be some issue. There isn’t. Testosterone is the key determinant in performance.”

Coe insisted it was his responsibility to “protect the integrity of women’s sport”.

“We have two categories in our sport: one is age and one is gender,” he added. “Age because we think it’s better that Olympic champions don’t run against 14-year-olds in community sports. And gender because if you don’t have a gender separation, no woman would ever win another sporting event.”

Elsewhere, on an otherwise low-key day of action, Britain’s Aimee Pratt ran the race of her life to finish seventh in the women’s 3000m final in 9:15.64 – breaking her national record by three seconds in a race won by Norah Kipruto.

There was also an impressive performance by Matthew Hudson-Smith who qualified second fastest for the men’s 400m, despite tummy issues in the home straight. The other Briton in the semi-finals, Alex Haydock-Wilson, missed out despite running a personal best of 45.08.

However there was bad news for Britain as Max Burgin, who has run the fastest 800m in the world this year, was forced to pull out before Wednesday’s heats due to injury.