SHOULD GENDER TESTING IN SPORTS BE BANNED?
By Shanvee Gahlaut
The author is a first-year law student at USLLS GGSIU New Delhi
The release of the new sports-based Bollywood movie ‘Rashmi Rocket’, starring Taapsee Pannu, on the OTT platform Zee5, has made us once again talk about the issue of Gender Testing in Sports. Gender Testing or Sex Verification Tests, as the name suggests, is a process conducted to ascertain the gender of the athlete by a series of tests.
GENDER TESTING – BACKGROUND
Sex Verification Tests was introduced in the world of sports for the first time by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF), in the year 1950, on suspicions that men with physical advantage were committing ‘Gender Fraud’ by participating in events for female athletes, in pursuit of sporting glory.
In days as early as 1930s, Physical examinations took place to ascertain gender wherein female athletes were required to parade nude before a panel of doctors, which later was termed the ‘Nude parade’ and were forced for close inspections. Later, in 1968, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) introduced ‘Chromosome Testing’. This tested for ‘Y’ chromosome, which as speculated would help to identify male imposters. But this method was later scrapped as it was found to be indecisive in identifying ‘masculinity’. In recent times, Gender Testing is conducted by a process called as ‘Hormone Testing’ in which testosterone levels of female athletes are inspected, and if found higher than the prescribed count (10 nanomole threshold, which is considered the lower end of ‘normal’ male range) were banned from competing.
HORMONE TESTING FACILITATES FAIR PLAY
Testosterone within the normal female range relates to muscle mass and strength in women. Emerging pieces of evidence indicate that high levels of testosterone help in enhancing the athletic performance of women. It increases their muscle mass and strength thus promoting competitive behavior, thus essential hyperandrogenism (10-20 times higher androgen level than normal female) in female athletes proves to give them an edge over others.
Therefore, according to the officials and a section of the society it appears to be unjust to allow hyperandrogenic female athletes to compete with female athletes who fall in the normal female androgen range.
OBJECTIONS TO SEX VERIFICATION
Until the year 1992, Gender Testing was mandatory for all female athletes, before the IAAF ceased it and ruled that it will not be mandatory but will be conducted for suspicious athletes in the future. This came in force after a series of objections were raised all over the world, when Dutch athlete Foekje Dillema was banned for life as she refused to undergo the mandatory gender testing ahead of the 1950 European Championships.
The gender testing of female athletes once again made the headlines when South African Athlete Castor Semenya was subjected to it in 2009 after her remarkable win in 800 m, World Championship made race officials as well as public doubt on her being a ‘female’. She was taken for the gender testing and the result claimed she was ‘intersex’. The result was leaked, and it turned the best day of her career into the worse day of her life.
Similarly, in 2014, the International Association of Athletics Federations, banned athlete Dutee Chand from competitions, on the grounds of Hyperandrogenism, a condition in which one’s body produces too much testosterone. According to its Policy, Dutee Chand’s hyperandrogenism condition gave her an unfair edge over other female athletes. Distressed by the same, in 2015 Chand resorted to taking legal action. In July the same year, the Court of Arbitration for Sport held that, as the IAAF was unable to provide sufficient evidence that hyperandrogenic female athletes have a significant performance advantage over other female athletes, it must suspend the hormone test for a period of two years until it can gather enough evidence to prove the same. The IOC also complied with the same, and thus Dutee Chand and other hyperandrogenic female athletes were allowed to compete at the 2016 Olympic Games.
With these prominent incidents and many others all these years, the issue of gender testing in sports and whether to make it mandatory or not has undergone a series of changes and discussions. As of 2018, gender testing is made mandatory for women who solely compete in 400 meters to one-mile distance races. The reason is that these races require evaluations of extensive power, speed, and endurance which varies for males and females due to the difference in testosterone levels.
But the problem is that we are talking only about the case of hyperandrogenism in the case of women athletes, which is an inborn condition potentially enhancing athletic performance. On the other hand, there seem to be no restrictions (upper limit) for testosterone levels for male athletes. For decades, gender testing has mainly been carried out for females and is hardly done for male athletes.
Researchers relate bodily performance with around 150 different genomic variations, out of which more than 30 variants are associated with elite athleticism. These performance-enhancing polymorphisms (PEP), affect height, metabolism, muscle mass and fibers, pain threshold, resistance, speed, and power, to name a few. But sportspersons with these types of predispositions are not disqualified.
Athletes many a time train at higher altitudes, sleep in altitude chambers, or adopt illegal methods such as blood doping, taking a synthetic version of the Erythropoietin hormone, etc to boost their hemoglobin count. Olympic athlete, Eero Mantyranta, didn’t require any of it. He suffered from ‘polycythemia’, a congenital condition in which one’s body produces 65% more red blood cells than produced in an average male body. Mantyranta’s EPOR variant was called the ‘gold medal mutation by David Epstein, the author of the book ‘The Sports Gene’.
Now, the question which arises is that how are these types of predispositions different from a female’s body that innately produces more testosterone? Why is congenital polycythemia considered as a ‘genetic gift’ and hyperandrogenism in female athletes a ‘disqualifying factor’?
Unless athletic authorities wish to take into consideration all those conditions that might result in an unfair added advantage, either biological, genetic, social or otherwise, it seems arbitrary to focus only on testosterone levels in female athletes.
Regulating fair play is a valid undertaking, but committing human rights violations in the process is not.
These regulations discriminate against females on the basis of their sex, physical appearance, hormone imbalance, and gender expression. The standards of femineity applied are often racially biased. It was discovered that not all females have standard female hormones, thus it began to unfairly exclude some female athletes from competing, largely the women from the global south.
Further Gender Testing is responsible for violating a range of fundamental and human rights including the right to privacy, health, dignity, freedom from ill-treatment, and non-discrimination to name a few. These punitive regulations force female athletes into an unnecessary medical procedure, forcing them to choose either their career or their basic rights. Moreover, these regulations reinforce negative stigma and stereotypes that women in the targeted category are not really ‘woman’, they should either be cured medically or compete in the men/intersex category, which questions their very own identity. Women perceived to be ‘too masculine’ become targets of suspicion and gossip, and have their careers ended prematurely. World Athletics eligibility criteria for female classification instead of just driving women out of sports; ruin lives.
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More on “Gender Testing in Sports”
Gender Testing in Sports (topendsports.com)
Gender Testing in Sports – What is it and when was it started? (thebridge.in)
Testing sex and gender in sports; reinventing, reimagining and reconstructing histories – ScienceDirect
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