Sex-Verification Policy Is Criticized As A Failure
The International Olympic Committee’s new policy regarding who is eligible to compete as a female athlete is a veiled sex-verification test that fails in its objective to protect the integrity of women’s events at the Games, critics of the regulations said Monday.
By JULIET MACUR - Published: June 25, 2012
Kevin B. Wamsley, a professor of sport history at the University of Western Ontario who has written about the issue of sex testing in sports, called the new policy a farce.
He said the policy was not an improvement on the invasive sex-verification testing to which Caster Semenya, the South African runner, was subjected in 2009 after winning the world championships in the 800 meters.
“No matter what they call it, it’s still a sex test that’s all about judgments and so much more about social values than science,” said Wamsley, the former director of the International Centre for Olympic Studies. “They don’t need this test, and I think they should get rid of it.”
On Friday, about five weeks before the opening ceremony of the Summer Games in London, the I.O.C. posted on its Web site new regulations regarding athletes with hyperandrogenism, a condition that involves the excessive production of androgens like testosterone. The new rules say that women with levels of testosterone that reach a man’s normal level will be barred from competing with other women if it is found that the athlete’s body is responsive to androgens.
But the I.O.C. rule stops short of specifying what a man’s normal level might be. Arne Ljungqvist, the chairman of the I.O.C.’s medical commission, said Monday that omission was intentional.
“If you have a cutoff level, the upside of it is you have an absolute trigger, and lawyers like that,” he said. “The downside is that if an athlete is just below the level, you cannot act on it. Because those levels can fluctuate, we will leave those decisions with the experts.”
A panel of at least three experts — a gynecologist, a genetic expert and an endocrinologist — will conduct any investigation that arises at the Games. A complete medical and chemical evaluation will be involved, Ljungqvist said, and a psychologist may be made available to the athlete.
More than two dozen experts worked to create the rules, which were vetted by the I.O.C.’s legal committees, Ljungqvist said.
He said he did not expect the rules to come into play in London because each country’s Olympic committee is expected to make sure its athletes are eligible for the Olympics. The I.O.C.’s new rules say that those committees should “prior to the registration of its national athletes, actively investigate any perceived deviation in sex characteristics,” to make sure those athletes are dealt with, if necessary, before the Olympics.
If an athlete is investigated at the Games and is found to have high testosterone levels that her body is responsive to, that would convey an unfair competitive advantage, Ljungqvist said. That athlete’s case would then be handed over to the national Olympic committee, as well as the relevant international sports federation that is ordinarily responsible for handling eligibility issues.
An athlete could choose to medically lower her testosterone level to below the man’s range, Ljungqvist said. If she does so, she will be eligible to compete against women.
Rebecca Jordan-Young, an associate professor of women’s, gender and sexuality studies at Barnard College, Columbia University, said the new regulations were an unsuccessful attempt by the I.O.C. to address an issue that is more complicated than the rules suggest.
“The problem here isn’t unfair advantage,” she said of the I.O.C.’s view that some women have an unfair biological advantage and should be barred from competing as females. “The problem is the misperception and bias against people who are not gender-conforming.”
Ljungqvist said the issue had to be addressed, calling it “a matter of social development” because there are more women’s Olympic sports than ever and athletes who are intersex — meaning they have both male and female anatomical characteristics — are increasingly participating in sports at a high level.
“People are always asking me, ‘Why have you done all this?’ ” he said. “I say, ‘We cannot pretend that intersex people do not exist.’ To let them compete in women’s sports can be unfair, so we must look into it.”