Caster Semenya celebrates her silver medal at the London 2012 Olympic games. Original photo by Jon Connell, via flickr.

By Kelsey E. Rector

South African runner Caster Semenya is a two-time Olympic gold medalist and has dominated track events like the 800 meter and other mid-distance races over the last decade.[1] All her life, Semenya has been questioned about her sex, especially with respect to competing as an elite female track athlete.[2] Her performance came under fire because Semenya, who was raised as a woman, presents as a woman, and identifies as a woman, has differences in sex development (“DSD”) which cause her body to naturally produce more testosterone than the average female.[3] DSD has many potential causes,[4] but in the most general terms, means that a person has an “atypical development of their chromosomal, gonadal, and/or anatomic sex.”[5]

In competitive sports which rely on gender binaries to group athletes for fair competition, one of the major issues has been to determine how to handle challenges that DSD women are not “female” for the sake of competition.[6] As a result, the recent solution by World Athletics (formerly the International Association of Athletics Federations, or “IAAF”) has been to adopt new rules to protect fair competition which would require DSD women, who are considered “relevant athletes,” to regulate their elevated testosterone levels or bar them from competing in certain women’s track events.[7]

Last month, Semenya lost her appeal challenging the World Athletics regulation which prohibits certain athletes with elevated testosterone levels from competing as females in specified track events.[8]

The regulations set forth by World Athletics state that “relevant athletes,” like Semenya, are barred from competing in restricted events, such as the women’s 800 meter, unless they reduce their blood testosterone to a level of less than five nmol/L for at least six months and sustain it thereafter to maintain eligibility.[9] Similar regulations were proposed by the IAAF in 2014, but when challenged the IAAF failed to produce enough scientific evidence to justify the necessity of the regulation.[10] Despite conflicting studies regarding whether increased testosterone even provides a significant competitive advantage for DSD athletes, the IAAF proposed the current regulations and claimed that they were essential to preserving fair competition for women.[11]

Semenya filed a claim against IAAF in the Court of Arbitration for Sports (“CAS”), claiming that the DSD regulations were “unfairly discriminatory, arbitrary and disproportionate and therefore violate the IAAF Constitution . . . .”[12]

There are several issues with regulations such as these. First, the regulation explicitly targets those individuals who do not fit within a convenient, traditionally defined, binary division of sex. The regulation applies to DSD individuals, but not non-DSD women who may also naturally produce testosterone at high levels.[13] Second, the regulation only applies to certain track events and not to other sports or events.[14] It is interesting to note that the events in the restricted category are restricted to those events in which identified DSD athletes compete in the most significant numbers, but not to those where the performance gap between DSD women and non-DSD women was the widest.[15] Third, and perhaps most troubling, the regulation requires artificial lowering of natural testosterone levels—which can have side effects—in order for an athlete to compete as a woman.[16] We do not ask Michael Phelps to shorten his ridiculously long arms for fair competition, nor do we question Usain Bolt’s long legs in men’s racing—so is it even appropriate to regulate naturally produced hormones which may only give athletes a slight advantage?[17]

Following arbitration, CAS found that the DSD regulations were discriminatory, but upheld them because the regulations were “a necessary, reasonable and proportionate means of achieving the aim of what is described as the integrity of female athletics and upholding of the ‘protected class’ of female athletes in certain events.”[18] The court noted several concerns with the regulations, such the potential for compromising athletes’ confidentiality, the ability of the IAAF to practically apply the regulations, risks to athletes’ health from hormonal treatment, and the inclusion of certain events (the 1,500 meter and 1 mile) as restricted events.[19] The court implied that it was not its place to determine whether a different regulation could be implemented that was more fair and less discriminatory.[20] Instead the court stated that its role was limited to evaluating the regulation as presented in order to determine if it was necessary, reasonable, and proportionate.[21]

Following the CAS decision, the World Medical Association (“WMA”) released a statement encouraging doctors not to take part in implementing the regulations.[22] Specifically, the WMA president stated, “We have strong reservations about the ethical validity of these regulations. They are based on weak evidence from a single study, which is currently being widely debated by the scientific community.”[23] Nevertheless, the regulation was upheld on appeal by the Swiss Federal Supreme Court.[24]

The Swiss Court stated that it could only evaluate “whether the CAS decision violates fundamental and widely recognized principles of public order.”[25] The court determined that fairness in sport was a legitimate concern and that DSD athletes were not being forced to undergo examinations or treatment.[26] While technically the court is correct that athletes aren’t being forced into evaluation or treatment, if an athlete withholds her consent, she will be barred from competing.[27] That doesn’t exactly seem like a fair choice.[28]

So what comes next? First, given the concerns expressed in the CAS opinion, there may be challenges to the application of the DSD regulation once it starts to be enforced.[29] For example, an athlete who agrees to adjust her testosterone levels through hormone treatment may not be able to consistently keep them at the required level throughout her eligibility period.[30] If World Athletics chooses to enforce the policy anyway, that athlete would have a strong argument that she attempted to follow the regulation and that it would be unfair to bar her from competition for fluctuating testosterone levels.[31] In the meantime, Semenya will likely take her case to the European Court of Human Rights to determine “whether demanding women with intersex variations to change their natural bodies as eligibility condition for a certain sport events conforms to the European Convention on Human Rights.”[32]


[1] Athlete Profile: Caster Semenya, World Athletics, https://worldathletics.org/athletes/south-africa/caster-semenya-14330057 (last visited Oct. 20, 2020) (showing races won, current season times, world ranking, and other statistics).

[2] Robyn Dixon, Gender Issue Has Always Chased Her, L.A. Times (Aug. 21, 2009), https://www.latimes.com/archives/la-xpm-2009-aug-21-fg-south-africa-runner21-story.html. See also Erin Buzuvis, Caster Semenya and the Myth of a Level Playing Field, 6 Modern Am. 36 (2010) (discussing how Semenya’s voice, musculature, and speed provoked questions about her gender after she won the 800m at the World Championships in 2009).

[3] See Sofia Christensen, Semenya Lawyer Prepares Testosterone Rule Challenge in European Court, Yahoo News (October 1, 2020), https://sports.yahoo.com/semenya-lawyer-prepares-testosterone-rule-142841526.html.

[4] DSD is a term encompassing a variety of conditions including but not limited to: 46 XX congenital adrenal hyperplasia, 5-alpha reductase deficiency, Klinefelter syndrome (47 XXY), Swyer syndrome (46 XY gonadal dysgenesis), and Androgen insensitivity syndrome. Kyla Boyse, Disorders of Sex Development (DSD) Resources, Mich. Med. (updated Nov. 2012),  https://www.med.umich.edu/yourchild/topics/dsd.htm.

[5] Semenya v. Int’l Ass’n of Athletics Fed’n, CAS Case No. 2018/O/5794, at 110–11 (Ct. Arb. Sport Apr. 30, 2019), https://www.tas-cas.org/fileadmin/user_upload/CAS_Award_-_redacted_-_Semenya_ASA_IAAF.pdf.

[6] See generally Maayan Sudai, The Testosterone Rule—Constructing Fairness in Professional Sport, 4 J. L. & Biosciences 181, 182 (2017) (stating that the issue of sex classification has plagued professional sport authorities since at least 1968).

[7] See World Athletics, Eligibility Regulations for the Female Classification, 2 (effective Nov. 2019) https://www.worldathletics.org/download/download?filename=656101dc-7716-488a-ab96-59d37941e9ac.pdf&urlslug=C3.6%20-%20Eligibility%20Regulations%20for%20the%20Female%20Classification; Testosterone Rules for Female Athletes ‘Unscientific’, BBC (Mar. 21, 2019), https://www.bbc.com/news/health-47640359.

[8] George Ramsay & Jill Martin, Caster Semenya Loses Appeal in Swiss Court over Restriction of Testosterone Levels, CNN (Sept. 9, 2020), https://www.cnn.com/2020/09/09/sport/caster-semenya-ruling-athletics-spt-intl/index.html; Lena Holzer, The Decision of the Swiss Federal Supreme Court in the Caster Semenya Case: A Human Rights and Gender Analysis, Opinio Juris (Sept. 30, 2020), http://opiniojuris.org/2020/09/30/the-decision-of-the-swiss-federal-supreme-court-in-the-caster-semenya-case-a-human-rights-and-gender-analysis/; Sean Ingle, Caster Semenya’s Olympic Hopes Fade as Runner Loses Testosterone Rules Appeal, The Guardian (Sept. 8, 2020), https://www.theguardian.com/sport/2020/sep/08/caster-semenya-loses-appeal-against-world-athletics-testosterone-rules.  

[9] World Athletics, supra note 7, at 4–5. The regulations define relevant athletes as those with listed DSDs, testosterone levels higher than five nmol/L, and who have androgen sensitivity allowing the testosterone to have an androgenizing effect. Id. at 4. Restricted events currently include the women’s 400 m, 400 m hurdles, 800 m, 1,500 m, and 1 mile. Id.

[10] See Alexandria Adkins, Comment, Trapped in the Binary Divide: How Forced Contraceptives Violate the World Anti-Doping Code, 35 Am. U. Int’l L. Rev. 531, 542–43 (2020). These regulations required hyperandrogenic females to reduce natural testosterone levels through the use of oral contraceptives. Id. at 542.Dutee Chand, a hyperandrogenic sprinter from India successfully challenged the necessity, reasonableness, and proportionality of the regulations. Id. at 543.

[11] Sudai, supra note 6, at 186–89.

[12] Semenya v. Int’l Ass’n of Athletics Fed’n, CAS Case No. 2018/O/5794, at 2 (Ct. Arb. Sport Apr. 30, 2019), https://www.tas-cas.org/fileadmin/user_upload/CAS_Award_-_redacted_-_Semenya_ASA_IAAF.pdf.

[13] Adkins, supra note 10, at 561.

[14] Id. at 562.

[15] Semenya, CAS Case No. 2018/0/5794, at 156.

[16] Adkins, supra note 10, at 556.

[17] Matt Butler, Nobody Asked Bolt to Shorten His Legs or Phelps to Shrink His Feet, so Why is Caster Semenya Being Told to Reduce Her Testosterone?, i News (Sept. 16, 2020), https://inews.co.uk/sport/athletics/caster-semenya-iaaf-testosterone-cas-sebastian-coe-260629. But see Malcom Gladwell & Nicholas Thompson, Caster Semenya and the Logic of Olympic Competition, New Yorker (Aug. 12, 2016), https://www.newyorker.com/sports/sporting-scene/caster-semenya-and-the-logic-of-olympic-competition (rationalizing the regulations by stating that these are different types of advantages, and that testosterone places Semenya outside the protected class of women).

[18] Semenya, CAS Case No. 2018/0/5794, at 160.

[19] Id. at 152–160.

[20] Id. at 160.

[21] Id.

[22] WMA Reiterates Advice to Physicians not to Implement IAAF Rules on Classifying Women Athletes, World Med. Ass’n (May 2, 2019), https://www.wma.net/news-post/wma-urges-physicians-not-to-implement-iaaf-rules-on-classifying-women-athletes/.

[23] Id.

[24] Press Release, Swiss Fed. Sup. Ct., DSD Regul.: Caster Semenya’s Appeal against the Decision of the Ct. of Arb. for Sport Dismissed (Sept. 8, 2020). The court opinion is in French (which I do not speak), as such I cite to the Press Release which was released in English. The case citation is: Tribunal Fédéral [TF] [Federal Supreme Court] Aug. 25, 2020, 4A_248/2019 (Switz.).

[25] Press Release, Swiss Fed. Sup. Ct., supra note 24.

[26] Id.

[27] World Athletics, supra note 7, at 5.

[28] Holzer, supra note 8.

[29] Semenya v. Int’l Ass’n of Athletics Fed’n, CAS Case No. 2018/0/5794, 158–59 (Ct. Arb. Sport 2019).

[30] Id.

[31] Id.

[32] Holzer, supra note 8.

By Alexander S. Boros

So far, 2020 has felt like an eternity and yet we are just four months in.  The spread of COVID-19 has turned the entire world upside down and has transformed the economy in a way we have never seen before.  One of the more interesting twists of fate in the midst of this global crisis was the end of sports in America.[1]  When COVID-19 struck, sports were in full swing: college basketball was entering its postseason, the NBA, MLS, and NHL were mid-season, and Major League Baseball was in the middle of Spring Training.[2]  By March 12, however, state and national social distancing guidelines created “The day the sports world stopped.”[3]  In the coming days, restaurants and bars would shut down and states across the country would shut down all non-essential businesses.[4] 

Millions of Americans would be shut in their homes to flatten the curve but were left without some unifying outlet of entertainment.  Online resources, available from the safety of our own homes, have become the only connection to the outside world.  Internationally, online poker tournaments set records for participation and prize pools, though such gambling is virtually illegal in the United States.[5]  Instead, American gamblers have increasingly wagered on sporting events as their chosen form of entertainment.[6]  When sports shut down, however, that multimillion-dollar gambling industry was also removed from the equation.  In North Carolina alone, sports gambling was expected to bring in $14 million to casinos and $1 million in tax revenues.[7]  Throughout the country, newly developed and well-established sportsbooks alike began facing a question suddenly on the lips of many small businesses owners: How will we stay in business?[8]

It turns out, there is no way to shut down American ingenuity.  In the beginning of April 2020, American sportsbooks FanDuel, DraftKings, and BetMGM each reached out to West Virginia’s Lottery for approval to accept bets in “political market[s].”[9]  Specifically, DraftKings hoped to accept bets on four markets: (1) Winner – Presidential Election; (2) Winning Party Overall; (3) Over/Under seats for each Party – Senate Over/Under for each Party – House Over/Under number of States won; (4) Over/Under Electoral College Votes Obtained and Turnout percentage.[10]  In these conversations, it was taken as a given that gambling on state and local elections was not allowed.[11]  On April 7, the state lottery approved each of the markets.[12]

Betting on elections is “nothing new” internationally.[13]  International gambling websites like InTrade and BetFair became popular in 2012, and the 2016 election brought in record numbers of bets and revenue.[14]  Opening political markets in the United States is a massive opportunity for states as well.[15]  Forecasts suggest that presidential election gambling would produce $1.1 million in new wagers and generating $150 thousand in new tax revenue for West Virginia alone.[16]  Those same projections expected nearly double the wagers on the Presidential election than were placed on Super Bowl LIV.[17]  That is because, although sports are hugely popular in the United States, they do not affect everyone.[18]  American democracy, on the other hand, affects everyone in this country.  Thus, political gambling is hugely popular with first time betters.[19]  In Europe, 12 percent of all wagers placed on the 2016 election were new betters.[20]  That number is nearly six times higher than the percentage of new betters across all other markets offered that year.[21]

Even though initial approval was given to West Virginia’s Sportsbooks, Mac Warner, West Virginia’s Secretary of State, quickly shut down the idea and revoked the approval.[22]  That’s because, in West Virginia, it is “unlawful to bet or wager money or other thing of value on any election held in [the] state.”[23]  It turns out that’s a common restriction across the fifty states.[24]  But should it be?

While direct wagering on elections is illegal,  predictive markets allowing “investing” in political outcomes have been operating within the United States since 1993.[25]  Two of the largest in the country, PredictIt and the University of Iowa’s Electronic Markets, limit the amount of money that can be invested at any time, and all data from the markets is used for research purposes.[26]  Although scholars are divided as to whether there is really a difference between these two markets, arguably the overall results are the same.[27]  At the end of the day, these markets include placing money on candidates based on their odds with either losses or gains that are realized.  Put simply, it is hard to see the distinction between the two forums.  This discussion may be the result of “being so preoccupied with whether or not they could [without stopping] to think if they should.”[28]  That may be a question for a different article.  If Sportsbooks can develop the appropriate, anti-corruption protections to ensure that unfettered gambling does not run amuck on our elections, the country’s next great sport spectacle may well be America’s democracy.


[1] See Mike Vaccaro, The Day Coronavirus Sent the Sports World Into Darkness, N.Y. Post (Mar. 12, 2020, 6:38 PM), https://nypost.com/2020/03/12/the-day-coronavirus-sent-sports-into-hibernation-has-come/.

[2] Id.

[3] Id.

[4] See, e.g., Gabriella Borter, New York Governor Orders All Non-essential Businesses Closed, Says Everyone Must Stay Home, Reuters (Mar. 20, 2020, 11:51AM), https://www.reuters.com/article/us-health-coronavirus-usa-new-york/new-york-governor-orders-all-non-essential-businesses-closed-says-everyone-must-stay-home-idUSKBN2172JP.

[5] David Purdum, Online Poker Tourney Sets Record Amid Pandemic, ESPN (Mar. 24, 2020), https://www.espn.com/chalk/story/_/id/28948562/online-poker-tourney-sets-records-amid-pandemic (noting online poker is legal in only a handful of U.S. states).

[6] See Alexander Boros, North Carolina is All-in on Sports Betting, Wake Forest L. Rev.: Current Issues Blog (Aug. 27, 2020), http://wakeforestlawreview.com/2019/08/north-carolina-is-all-in-on-sports-betting/.

[7] See Andrew Westney, NC House Approves Cherokee Sports Betting Bill, Law360 (July 16, 2019), https://www.law360.com/articles/1177393/nc-house-approves-cherokee-sports-betting-bill (“The bill’s supporters expect sports betting to generate $14 million in annual revenue for the tribe and about $1 million a year for the state.”).

[8] David Purdum, Wynn Las Vegas Temporarily Closing Sportsbook Due to the Coronavirus, ESPN (Mar. 13, 2020), https://www.espn.com/chalk/story/_/id/28900242/wynn-las-vegas-temporarily-closing-sportsbook-due-coronavirus.

[9] Adam Candee, Presidential Election Betting Asks In West Virginia Approved In An Hour, Emails Show, Legal Sports Rep. (Apr. 14, 2020, 1:23PM), https://www.legalsportsreport.com/39947/presidential-election-betting-west-virginia-emails/; see also Emails Between WV Lottery and Sports Betting Companies Regarding Elections Betting, Legal Sports Rep. (Apr. 14, 2020), https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/6837062-Emails-between-WV-Lottery-and-Sports-Betting.html [hereinafter Lottery E-mails].

[10] Lottery E-mails, supra note 9, at 20; E-mail from Jacob List, DraftKings, to David Bradley, West Virginia Lottery (Apr. 7, 2020, 1:50 PM) (on file with author) [hereinafter List E-mail].

[11] Lottery E-mails, supra note at 9, at 20; List E-mail, supra note 10.

[12] Lottery E-mails, supra note 9at 25; E-mail from David Bradley, West Virginia Lottery, to Jacob List, DraftKings (Apr. 7, 2020, 4:58 PM) (on file with author) [hereinafter Bradley E-mail].

[13] Sarah Zhang, You Can Bet Real Money on the US Election. It’s for Research, Wired (Mar. 1 2016, 7:00AM), https://www.wired.com/2016/03/can-bet-real-money-us-election-uh-research/.

[14] Id.; see also Lottery E-mails, supra note 9, at 22 (“The biggest market in terms of volume matched in the history of the Exchange is the 2016 Next President market …”); E-mail from John Sheeran, PPB.Com, to David Bradley, West Virginia Lottery (Apr. 7, 2020, 2:10 PM) (on file with author) [hereinafter Sheeran E-mail].

[15] Lottery E-mails, supra note 9, at 18; E-mail from Erich Zimny, Vice President of Racing & Sports Operations, Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races, to David Bradley, West Virginia Lottery (Apr. 6, 2020, 3:56 PM) (on file with author) [hereinafter Zimny E-Mail].

[16] Lottery E-mails, supra note 9, at 18; Zimny E-mail, supra note 15.

[17] Lottery E-mails, supra note 9, at 18; Zimny E-mail, supra note 15.

[18] Lottery E-mails, supra note 9,at 24; Sheeran E-mail, supra note 14.

[19] Lottery E-mails, supra note 9,at 24; Sheeran E-mail, supra note 14.

[20] Lottery E-mails, supra note 9,at 24; Sheeran E-mail, supra note 14.

[21] Lottery E-mails, supra note 9,at 24; Sheeran E-mail, supra note 14.

[22] Press Release, Andrew “Mac” Warner, Secretary of State Warner Releases Statement on Wagering on Elections in West Virginia (Apr. 8, 2020), https://sos.wv.gov/news/Pages/04-08-2020-A.aspx.

[23] W. Va. Code § 3-9-22 (2019); see Press Release, supra note 22.

[24] Tamar Lapin, Political Betting Was Legal in West Virginia – For About an Hour, N.Y. Post (Apr. 8, 2020, 9:27 PM), https://nypost.com/2020/04/08/political-betting-was-legal-in-west-virginia-for-about-an-hour/.  

[25] See Zeke Faux, PredictIt Owns the Market for 2020 Presidential Election Betting, BloomsBerg BusinessWeek (Aug. 1, 2019, 9:10 AM), https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2019-08-01/predictit-owns-the-market-for-2020-presidential-election-betting; Theo Francis, Wanna Bet? The Market Has a View on the 2020 Election, Wall St. J. (Jan. 10, 2020, 1:11 PM), https://www.wsj.com/articles/wanna-bet-the-market-has-a-view-on-the-2020-election-11578679896.

[26] Research Opportunities, PredictIt, https://www.predictit.org/research (last visited Apr. 20, 2020); About the IEM, U. Iowa, https://iemweb.biz.uiowa.edu/about/?mod=djem_election2020&mod=article_inline (last visited Apr. 20, 2020).

[27] Alexandra Lee Newman, Manipulation in Political Prediction Markets, 3 J. Bus. Entrepreneurship & L. 205, 208 n.25 (2010) (“Prediction market scholars disagree about whether the CFTC legally can regulate public prediction markets generally under the CEA, or whether state gambling laws should regulate these markets.”) (citing to disagreement in literature regarding the differences and likenesses of predictive markets and gambling).

[28] Jurassic Park (Universal Pictures 1993).