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Intersex Olympic hopeful suing World Athletics after having damaging and irreversible surgery in order to compete

Vic Parsons December 18, 2019

Annet Negesa of Uganda runs in the 800 Metres Semi Final at the World Junior Athletics Championships, 2010, in Canada. (Chris Trotman/Getty Images)

A Ugandan athlete who had irreversible surgery after her natural testosterone levels meant she was barred from competing in the Olympics is suing World Athletics for “violating her human rights”.

Annet Negesa, an 800 metre runner, was training in Kampala, Uganda, in 2012 when she was told that her natural testosterone levels meant she would not be allowed to compete in the London Olympics.

She is intersex, with external female genitalia and internal male organs that means she produces levels of testosterone higher than the limit that World Athletics imposes on women who wish to compete.

World Athletics say that athletes with testosterone above the limit have an unfair advantage.

Negesa, 27, says she was advised to have the irreversible and damaging surgery by a World Athletics doctor (World Athletics deny this), and that since having it she has suffered from depression and joint pains. She has not returned to competition.

In a New York Times interview, Negesa said: “I love my sport so much, that’s why I decided to go for the surgery.”

Other intersex women who have been barred from competing in women’s sport unless they modify their testosterone levels include Caster Semenya.

Semenya, a lesbian from South Africa, has been involved in a long legal fight for her right to run competitively after World Athletics, formerly known as IAAF, ruled that women with a so-called difference of sexual development (DSD) would need to take hormones to lower their testosterone levels in order to compete.

Semenya did not have surgery, but did take medication to lower her testosterone levels.

And in June this year, a World Athletics official suggested that Semenya and other athletes like her could be forced to undergo outdated tests for gender dysphoria – a recognised medical condition experienced by some transgender people.

Being transgender and being intersex are not the same thing, although some intersex people are trans, and vice versa.

Negesa is one of the only known intersex athletes to have had surgery to try to be able to compete. Others, like Semenya, have taken testosterone-suppressing drugs to keep their hormone levels below the World Athletics limit.

Negesa was a three-time national champion and took home a gold medal at the 2011 All-Africa Games.

The Uganda Athletics Federation named her athlete of the year.

But following surgery to remove her internal male genitalia, Negesa says she has battled persistent headaches and joint pains.

Payoshni Mitra, a researcher and activist on gender and sports who has lectured on the topic of intersex athletes, told the NYT: “What happened to Annet is dangerous, and happened because she wanted to compete.”

Mitra has supported other women who’ve been barred from competing by World Athletics because of their natural testosterone levels, including Semenya and Dutee Chand, a sprinter who is India’s first openly gay athlete.

In March this year, the UN condemned World Athletics for forcing intersex women to take testosterone-suppressing drugs in order to compete and said that the rule potentially breached their human rights.

Negesa is currently in Berlin, where she has been granted asylum, because of the dangers of returning home to Uganda as an LGBT+ person.

She runs every day and hopes one day to return to competition. But for now, her priority is legal action.

“I need to take them to court,” she said of World Athletics, “for violating my human rights.”

More: annet negesa, Caster Semenya, Dutee Chand, new york times, payoshni mitra

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