Ever since women began participating in world-class sports competitions, winners have been suspected of not being “female enough.” Sex testing has ramped up in the past 50 years, although sports authorities and scientists disagree on whether and how they should be done, what the results mean, and what standards should be enforced. The I.A.A.F. and the International Olympic Committee are particularly on the lookout for men masquerading as woman for competition, although they have never caught an imposter. What they’ve found are intersex women with various physical conditions that they never suspected, but which derailed their athletic careers.
…in 1966 international sports officials decided they couldn’t trust individual nations to certify femininity, and instead implemented a mandatory genital check of every woman competing at international games. In some cases, this involved what came to be called the “nude parade,” as each woman appeared, underpants down, before a panel of doctors; in others, it involved women’s lying on their backs and pulling their knees to their chest for closer inspection. Several Soviet women who had dominated international athletics abruptly dropped out, cementing popular conviction that the Soviets had been tricking authorities. (More recently, some researchers have speculated that those athletes may have been intersex.)
Amid complaints about the genital checks, the I.A.A.F. and the I.O.C. introduced a new “gender verification” strategy in the late ’60s: a chromosome test. Officials considered that a more dignified, objective way to root out not only impostors but also intersex athletes, who, Olympic officials said, needed to be barred to ensure fair play. Ewa Klobukowska, a Polish sprinter, was among the first to be ousted because of that test; she was reportedly found to have both XX and XXY chromosomes. An editorial in the I.O.C. magazine in 1968 insisted the chromosome test “indicates quite definitely the sex of a person,” but many geneticists and endocrinologists disagreed, pointing out that sex was determined by a confluence of genetic, hormonal and physiological factors, not any one alone. Relying on science to arbitrate the male-female divide in sports is fruitless, they said, because science could not draw a line that nature itself refused to draw. They also argued that the tests discriminated against those whose anomalies provided little or no competitive edge and traumatized women who had spent their whole lives certain they were female, only to be told they were not female enough to participate.
Later, the standard for identifying athletes by sex was changed to testosterone levels, which is also problematic. There is a condition in which a woman produces an unusual amount of testosterone, but it doesn’t give her an athletic boost because her cells are unable to use it. So even though she has no advantage from the hormone, the level could exclude her from competition. In other cases, young women have agreed to surgery to regain eligibility in sports.
The recent cases of Santhi Soundarajan, Caster Semenya, and five-foot-tall Indian sprinter Dutee Chand (at left in image above) have exposed the humiliating effects of sex testing in sports. Chand won her two-year battle against the IOC, but at a huge cost to her training, reputation, and psyche. Read about the history and controversy of sex testing for women athletes at the New York Times. -via Digg