The problem with sex testing in sports
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The problem with sex testing in sports

November 16, 2019


With a few seconds to go in the women’s 800 meters,
the group of athletes was tightly packed. Then on the final straightaway Three years later, the South African runner was at a court appealing a ban that could keep her from defending her title at the next Olympics. She wasn’t being banned because she cheated, but because sports officials had decided that she no longer qualified as a female athlete. “So effectively you’re saying to her: you no longer belong in sport!’” “I cannot stop because of people say, ‘Nooo! She looks like a man!’ “Is the new world champion of the women’s
800 meter race, really a woman at all?” “There is no scientific test or anything
that can define a human.” “…there will be two X chromosomes…” “We have drawn the line between
women’s and men’s sport.” “…being who we are so that we
can be the best that we can be.” “Such allegations, if I may say,
they are not my business. You understand? So for me, they do their job. I do my job. I do me. They do them. From the start, Semenya’s career
has been defined by two things… “Brilliant run for the South African!” …winning races and defending
her identity as a female athlete. “…and she’s breaking away!” Back in 2009, she won the
800 meter world championship. “Semenya looks over her shoulder and she’s away!” But soon after her victory,
sports authorities began questioning whether she was, in fact, a woman. “…well that smashes the world list!” “They are looking for proof that South Africa’s
golden girl is not a boy.” “There is doubt about the fact that this
person is a lady…is a woman.” In South Africa her win was celebrated. “She is a female. She won!” But the top governing body for athletics,
The IAAF, selected Semenya for testing to determine whether she is female. Most recently, their criteria for female competitors has been testosterone: a hormone
produced by both men and women. Semenya has naturally high levels of testosterone and the IAAF claims that there is a significant connection between
high testosterone and athletic performance. But it’s more complicated than that. “Testosterone is related to lean body mass
and building of muscle. But it’s not the only thing that contributes to that.” This is Katrina Karkazis, is a bioethicist who
advocates on behalf of athletes like Semenya. Testosterone is not the only factor that is
important for an individual’s athletic performance. There are not only other physiological factors:
that could be V02 max, heart size, any number of things. But there are factors that don’t have
to do with someone’s physiology. Factors like nutrition, coaching, and equipment
all play into an athlete’s performance. So it’s unclear how testosterone can be
singled out as the defining factor. But there’s another way to think about eliminating
female athletes based on testosterone… Like many Olympians, Semenya’s body has
natural advantages that can help her perform. “…Michael Phelps stands 6′ 4″…” For swimmer Michael Phelps, it was a long torso, wide feet, and other features
glorified in Olympic promos. “…his size 14 feet might as well be flippers!” But unlike Phelps, Semenya is being penalized
for a naturally occurring hormone. That’s because sports officials don’t
divide athletics by the size of your hand, or your foot, but they do draw a line between men and women. The problem is, the criteria that’s used
to draw that line and it’s always been problematic. Charlotte Cooper won gold in 1900, the first
year women were included at the Olympics. Since then, more and more women have competed
and stood on Olympic podiums. But by the 1960s, officials became skeptical
that successful female athletes might actually be men disguised as women. Polish sprinter Ewa Klobukowska, for example,
had won bronze running the women’s 100 meters at the 1964 Olympics. A few years later, officials made sex testing
mandatory for female athletes at the 1966 European Track and Field Championships and Klobukowska was forced to undergo inspection. She was physically examined in what
was called a “nude parade”: where female athletes were examined
by a panel of doctors who would inspect their genitals to confirm their sex. Klobukowska passed her test and
qualified as female in 1966, but the next year officials replaced physical
exams with chromosomal testing, meaning she would have to be tested all over again. Old sex ed films taught that a chromosome pairing of XX from a mother and father means a child will be female. “…and this always means a girl.” And an XY pairing will create a male. “…that’s right, a boy!” The chromosomes we’re born with are part of sex, which also takes into account genetic,
physical, and hormonal information. It’s different from gender, which is the
way someone identifies in the world as a woman, a man, or nonbinary, or something else. Beyond the typical categories of
XX females and XY males, “…that’s right, a boy!” There are many other ways a body can develop. People who have differences of sexual development, or DSD, are also known as intersex and many people can reach sexual maturity
without ever knowing they have a DSD. When sports officials changed the sex testing
criteria, Klobukowska failed the new version and she was banned from competing as female despite
having passed the female exam a year before. By the 2000s, chromosome testing fell out
of favor and in 2011 officials introduced a testosterone limit. Dutee Chand, an Indian sprinter who naturally
produces high levels of testosterone was put through the new test in 2014. The testosterone limit for female athletes
had been set at 10 nanomoles per liter, which the IAAF considered the lower end
of normal male levels. Chand failed her test and was banned
from competing as female. She appealed the decision, arguing that
the IAAF lacked scientific evidence linking high testosterone to performance. The Court of Arbitration for Sport agreed
with her and lifted the ban. In doing so, they said the IAAF
needed evidence showing a link between high testosterone and increased performance. The decision allowed Chand and other athletes, including Caster Semenya, to compete at the 2016 Olympics in Rio. But in 2018, authorities returned with a new
testosterone limit, and this time they had evidence that female athletes with high testosterone
outperformed in certain events. But here’s the catch: he IAAF commissioned the study the evidence came from and the data has been
questioned by members of the scientific community. Despite the scrutiny, the IAAF set the new testosterone limit even lower,
at 5 nanomoles per liter, and only applied it to track distances between 400 meters and the mile, which includes all the events
that Semenya typically runs. It’s the reason Semenya was banned. But before the ban could take affect, she
was at the Court of Arbitration for Sport to fight her right to compete. “…can we have a turnaround?
Turn around for a second?” She would lose her appeal. “The Court of Arbitration for Sport dismissed
the South African star’s appeal, meaning she’ll now have to take drugs to lower her
testosterone levels if she wants to compete.” “..a landmark ruling against Olympic
gold medalist Caster Semenya…” “She will not be able to compete in the 400 and
the 800 meters and in the 1500 meters.” The ban would require Semenya to undergo medical
treatment to lower her testosterone, which could potentially cause harmful side effects. This is something Semenya has
spoken out against in the past. A few years ago she told the BBC: “I’d rather just be natural, you know, be who I am. I was born like this. So I don’t want any changes, so yeah.” The United Nations has supported Semenya and were joined by the World Medical Association
in criticizing the ban. “…and she said she doesn’t want to take this
type of medication and I think she is right.” “It’s entirely unethical to administer drugs to
someone who doesn’t need them.” Semenya isn’t the only athlete affected. The other top two runners in Rio, silver medalist Francine Niyonsaba and
bronze medalist Margaret Wambui have also said they were affected by the ruling. Meaning all three podium finishers from Rio
might be banned from defending their title at the next Olympics unless they take steps
to regulate their natural levels of testosterone. For their part, IAAF officials described the
regulation as discriminatory, but necessary. “Such discrimination is a necessary, reasonable,
and proportionate means of achieving the IAAF’s objective of preserving the
integrity of female athletics…” The ruling also upholds a policy that only
athletes identified as suspicious need to be tested. That means deciding who is tested can depend
on an athlete’s appearance and it might be that non-white athletes from
the global South, like Chand, Semenya, and the other top finishers in Rio are
being selected for testing because they don’t fit somebody’s stereotype of
what a female looks like. Confusion about Caster Semenya’s case
has led to misunderstanding and news outlets have wrongly
portrayed her as transgender. She isn’t. And the problem of dividing athletes by sex has nothing to do with their gender. It’s rooted in sex and athletic officials
inability to find a criteria that will fairly divide athletes into the two categories of
men and women. History shows that whenever sports are divided by sex, the athletes who qualify as female change
depending on the criteria used to draw that line. “It’s now 10 years that the IAAF have scrutinized
Caster Semenya and tried to keep her out of sport or at least to slow her down.” But the scrutiny hasn’t stopped her. After losing her appeal this year, Semenya
brought the case to another court that agreed to suspend the ban for the time being. In the meantime, she continues to keep running. “If she was trying to make a statement she’ll
make it here in the last 100 meters.” She ran a race just before the ban was set to begin. “Impressive and dominant performance
by Caster Semenya.” After winning it, she was asked what comes next. “What happens for you now?” “I keep training, I keep running. So, doesn’t matter!” “I’m just gonna enjoy my life and then live it!” “You try to be in front of me? I jump you.
So, that’s how life it is.”

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  1. So if it's wrong to use tests to determine who's a woman, should we just not differ between men and women and let them all compete in the same events?

  2. Sports organizers shouldn't be able to determine who's a woman and who's a man, that's absolutely disgusting. The focus on women's genes are super weird, genes obviously mean a lot for your performance, but it's like that for everyone, and everyone who's doing elite sport has good genes designed for what they're doing

  3. hmmm… if they assumed that testosterone is the only and direct contributor for athletic performance, and suggested that persons who have that very low level of testosterone could participate in the women league. Does it sound like they believe that women can only have – or are believed to have – a very low level of athletic performance than men?

    Hmm… I'm a man myself, and even I am very disgusted with their assumption.

  4. If they are going to test they need to test everyone who participates since it could be possible that runners who lost could have high testosterone levels as well….but then that would hurt the case for testing for hormones.

  5. I’m sorry but why do women have to get tested when men don’t. And shouldn’t just being born as a women qualify you for the olympics as a woman.

  6. Michel Phelps may have a genetic defect that makes him more flexible or faster so are we saying that he doesn't deserve his wins either?

  7. I don't really think that theres a concrete right or wrong answer to this one honestly it's unfair to all people involved

  8. So if testosterone seems so important, then what about men with high testerone. Wouldn't they clearly be the winners all the time too?

  9. let's be real. authorities didnt question her. LOSING ATHLETES (white) question and complained and cried to push this. if she was running in the sprints (100, 200, 400) or short hurdles… I seriously doubt we would have this story.

  10. There’s clearly more diversity than just men and women, they can create new competition category intersex, as stated

  11. Everyone saying that her XY chromosomes are enough and should disqualify her from competing… Intersex people have XY chromosomes, but they are also all different. There are people who are intersex and look very feminine/are not strong athletes, and some intersex people who look more masculine/are great athletes. Her being intersex isn't making her a strong athlete… She's just a strong athlete.

  12. "Stop drinking vodka, it's bad for your liver"

    "Hey we don't know if vodka is the defining factor, there are other factors such as beer, rum, gin, whiskey…"

  13. i’m not tryna be like all feminist here but, when a women does very well in something does everyone question her identity ?

  14. if you are bilogically a woman, compete as one. if you are biologically a man but feel as you are a woman, that you are still a man. plain and simple

  15. if men compete with women they will win. because theres money in competition, theres nothing holding men back to claim theyre women and STEAL the money

  16. So this guys are saying that the reason women and men compete in different categories is because men have better "nutrition, coaching and equipment." Gotta be kidding me.

  17. It’s a dude he should Race against other dudes because he has the amount of testosterone capable to making him perform like a man and wether this makes you angry or not men are physically stronger than females making them faster stronger and slightly more athletic therefore he should compete with them

  18. If there's no difference and testosterone doesn't make a difference then these 'women' should also competes against men, in fact to be honest why not just leave difference between women and men, McGregor vs Rousey
    Mike Tyson vs Amanda Nunes etc I want to see wnba athletes against shaq

  19. If a man with a body better suited for swimming than his peers can still compete, then a woman with a body better suited to her sport should also still be allowed to compete. Ya'll just afraid of strong, fast, awesome women.

  20. Sorry feminists, but there is a difference between men and women, if you have an XY chromosone you are a biologically a man, that's not supposed to be sexist. It would be like if a professional weight lifter showed up at your highschools weight lifting competition.

  21. As a strength and conditioning coach and personal trainer for 10 years I can safely say that nothing even compares to testosterone, not even slightly close. You can have all the training in the world, with the best equipment and a championship mindset but women aren’t beating men of a level of even slight parity.

  22. it‘s funny to me how liberals are actually being extremely sexist against women, when they say they are feminists and everything. a few more years and all „women“ winning medals will be transgender.

  23. Okay so here’s the thing tho I’d she’s taking drugs to lower testosterone then couldn’t men just do the same thing and get to compete ruining the point of The Whole testing process?

  24. How about we just don’t have segregated sports? Like no men’s and women’s
    Or
    Women’s , men’s
    And attack helicopter

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