The problem with sex testing in sports

The problem with sex testing in sports



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."

43 Replies to “The problem with sex testing in sports”

  1. All idiots in comments!
    Its not a small advantage, she is almost a man.
    If it is just about advantage, run all genders together and victory only for men.
    With LGBTQ rights campaign everywhere, may be its time to begin another category for trans athletes.
    But remember that would make women's sports a 3rd class event

  2. I know I'm going to get hate for saying this. But, men have a biologically stronger more able body when it comes to sports. Men will always have this advantage, this doesn't mean they are always going to win. But at every turn they will always have this over women. That's why sports has been separated since the beginning.

  3. Vox failing to understand the concept of different leagues, that happens to consist of two

    classes based on testosterone

  4. One question that I have is whether or not they should start barring males with certain levels of testosterone because it affects others.

  5. I feel like this is kinda missing the point. The point of sports isn't to be fair competitions, but to be entertaining. It just so happens we find competition entertaining. If the same person wins every time, it's no longer interesting, and the sport loses it's value. The distinction between "men and women" are only supposed to seem fair, so that it still feels like a fair competition. That is, no one is interested in if any of the athletes are actually "women" or identify as "women", all they care about is making sure that the sport stays interesting.

  6. In a way the amount of testosterone a person produces could be measured in a way to put athletes into category’s? Similar to boxing and how there’s Feather, Middle, heavy, etc.

  7. This video is either misleading or misinformed. It doesn't explicitly state that Caster has XY-DSD or that the other two medalists from Rio also must have XY-DSD if they are being tested, because the testosterone limits apply only to athletes with XY-DSD.

  8. They should have an Olympics where anyone can compete, and drugs are allowed. Just to see who can become the best athlete.

  9. She was born naturally a woman I don't understand what's the issue…if she has naturally higher levels of testosterone than other women then too bad. That's life.

  10. If everyone is so concerned with testosterone levels, why don't the IAAF just divide people into testosterone 'groups' (like weight class in wrestling), where people with similar testosterone levels compete against each other instead of asking a couple of people to take drugs to lower testosterone levels and hurt themselves? Food for thought eh?

  11. Saying Semenya shouldn't be allowed to run because her testosterone gives her an advantage is like saying LeBron James shouldn't be allowed to play basketball because his height gives him an advantage

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