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Girls & Women

Why sex testing of athletes needs to stop

Dutee Chand is an Olympic-level athlete from India. She is the first woman to qualify from India for the 100 meter dash in 36 years. At only 20, she completed the dash in 11.24 seconds.

And, she is one of dozens of female athletes who has been scrutinized for having “masculine qualities.” The difference is, Chand is fighting back.

In 2014, Chand, a 200-meter sprinter, was on her way to what she assumed was a routine drug testing after a call from the director of the Athletics Federation of India asking her to come to Delhi. When she arrived, she was horrified to find her sex as female was under question.

The tests she went through went far beyond peeing in a cup. Chand was probed and examined to the point where she felt mortified, according to the New York Times, with little understanding of what doctors were actually doing or looking for.

Doctors used a 5-scale visual chart and tests for levels of testosterone to determine Chand was “intersex.” The International Association of Athletics Federations (I.A.A.F.) then decided Chand was not female enough to compete as a female athlete. She would have to take hormones to reduce her testosterone levels.

“I’m not changing for anyone,” Chand told New York Times two years ago. “I feel like this is the same kind of primitive, unethical rule. It goes too far.”

Female athletes have undergone hormone suppression therapy, genital mutilation and endured human rights abuses from gender verification testing.

Chand is not the first female athlete to be questioned over her sex. Stella Walsh, and Olympic athlete in 1930 was posthumously found to have “male parts” and was ridiculed. Caster Semenya, a middle-distance runner who won silver medals at the 2012 Summer Olympics in the 800 meters has someone follow her to the bathroom to before and after races. Maria Jose Martinez-Patiño was barred from the 1988 Summer Olympics after gender verification test revealed she had a Y chromosome – her boyfriend dumped her and she was stripped of titles.

Instead of backing down and changing the body she was born with, Chand filed an appeal, which remains confidential, with the Switzerland-based Court of Arbitration for Sports. Challenging the discriminatory policies of “gender verification” for female athletes, her claim was that her genetic differences are not something she should be blamed for. According to her lawyers, her high testosterone is no different than a male athletes with a genetic advantage such as Usain Bolt’s longer than average leg length.

Chand won the appeal and will now be the second Indian female sprinter in history to compete in the Olympics.

Gender verification policies which were largely put in place to uncover male athletes posing as women in Olympic and other sporting events — which the I.A.A.C. has never once found.

Instead the organization spends loads of time and resources humiliating and denying dreams of some of the world’s top female athletes in sports.

This issue unearths a larger problem: When gender and sex identification exists on a spectrum, is it fair to have competitive sports separated into only two genders?

It’s an issue the I.A.A.C. and the Olympics have struggled with for years. Where do intersex athletes fit in and what policies should be put in place for athletes who have “atypical sex development?” Plus, research on the extent to which testosterone actually affects female athletes performance is iffy at best.

Sports can be slow to change. Females were included into the Olympics in 1900, (a little later than 776 BC when the games originated) and they competed in just five areas. It wasn’t until the last Summer Olympics in 2012 that every sport was required to have gender equality. Today, only 44 percent of athletes in the Olympics are female.

Females do not need more barriers to access traditionally male spheres. Sex testing female athletes does not appear to be promoting gender equality in athletics.

Chand, with support from others like activist for gender and sports, Payoshni Mitra, is pushing for organizations like the I.A.A.C. to consider the impact barring female athletes with high testosterone levels can have.

Chand’s own parents make $8 a week, and support seven children in a rural village in eastern India. Her success as an athlete has helped her family immensely. There are other female athletes out there who are breadwinners, too.

“The sports officials who make these rules have no idea who they are stopping from competing,” Mitra said. “Many of these women are providing for their families. Sports gave them so much, so many opportunities.”

Gender and sex are complex issues, but policies in all sectors, especially sports should be respectful and strive for gender equality.