Female athletes with 'masculine' qualities have been subjected to humiliating gender tests

Dutee Chand

Associated Press
Indian runner Dutee Chand (pictured) has been fighting the ban that makes female athletes with naturally high levels of testosterone ineligible to compete under International Association of Athletics Federation rules.

International sports organisations have long subjected female athletes that exhibit certain ‘masculine’ qualities to invasive gender tests, according to a report by the New York Times Magazine.

The tests were designed to identify those with chromosomes, hormones, genitalia, reproductive organs or secondary sex characteristics that didn’t develop in the typical way, according to the report.

Female athletes suspected of exhibiting ‘male’ attributes were forced to undergo blood tests to measure their natural testosterone levels.

They also underwent a chromosome analysis and a gynecological exam that entailed measuring and palpitating the clitoris, vagina and labia. Their breasts and pubic hair were evaluated, too, the report said.

The exhaustive exams were conducted by organisations including the International Association of Athletics Federations and the International Olympic Committee.

Organisations designed the tests to catch male athletes masquerading as women, but advocates argue they actually discriminate against “intersex” women.

The tests were originally designed to catch male athletes pretending to be women, but instead, the only athletes who seem to be affected by the exams are intersex women, the report said.

The estimated number of people considered “intersex” (as physicians have largely stopped using the stigmatizing term “hermaphrodite”) varies from one in 5,000 to one in 60. The wide range is because doctors aren’t really sure what conditions to include in the definition.

Some women considered intersex have XX chromosomes and ovaries but ambiguous genitalia, while others have XY chromosomes and undescended testes, which makes them appear female at birth (and thus they are raised as such).

Indian runner Dutee Chand became the face of the fight against such gender testing, after she had been deemed ineligible to compete. Tests found that she had naturally high testosterone levels.

Chand went through such testing in 2014 after extraordinary showings at two major races. Her “male hormone” levels were found to be too high, which meant that she produced more androgens (mostly testosterone) than most women.

As a result, Chand was told she could no longer race, and that she would have to lower her testosterone levels in order to qualify again. She then took her case to the International Court of Arbitration for Sport.

In July 2015, the three-judge panel suspended the I.A.A.F.’s policy to ban female athletes with higher levels of natural testosterone until July 2017, unless they provide proof that the levels actually improve athleticism. The judges also said that requiring women, including Chand, to change their bodies to compete was discriminatory.

In late February, the I.O.C. said it wouldn’t regulate the natural testosterone levels of women “until the case was resolved.” The organisation also said high-testosterone women should be eligible to compete against men.

The International Olympic Committee recently said women with high testosterone levels should be allowed to compete against men, a proposed policy that advocates called “humiliating.”

Payoshni Mitra, an Indian researcher who served as an advocate for Chand, called the policy “ridiculous.”

“They say the policy is not for testing gender — but saying that a hyperandrogenic woman can compete as a man, not a woman, inherently means they think she really is a man, not a woman. It brings back the debate around an athlete’s gender, publicly humiliating her in the process,” she told the New York Times Magazine.

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