Gender Verification Tests in Sports: A case for ‘Biological Racism’?

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The concept of Gender Verification Tests in Sports promotes sexism, perpetuates patriarchy and grossly violates the Human Rights of a female sportsperson

Background

If one has to trace the origins of Gender Verification Tests, all evidences lead to comprehensive “gender verification” testing adopted by the IOC (International Olympic Committee) in 1968. Tests were conducted on women who demonstrated exemplary performance, but appeared “suspicious”-solely determined by their outer appearance, immense strength and agility displayed by these sports women “on field”. The humiliation did not end there; these women were initially paraded naked and subject to scrutiny by gynecologists, which after much hue and cry, was changed to a scientific method of checking swabs of cheek tissues for chromosomes, women being XX and men YY. The aftermath of the Gender Verification Test, if one fails, is even more scarring. Sportswomen who are diagnosed with various conditions, one of which is popularly known as “hyperandrogenism” (excessive level of male sex hormones) are immediately labelled a “man,” removed from their sports contingent, blasphemed by the media and in some cases, stripped off of their hard-earned titles and medals.

Shanti Soundarajan & Dutee Chand: The Victims of Biological Racism

Shanti Soundarajan, a female Indian Track & Field Athelete was the first amoung the victims of the harrowing Gender Verification Test in India. Shanti, hailing from a small village of Tamil Nadu, whose family members are brick and kiln workers, was stripped off her silver medal for failing a gender test at the Asian Games in 2006. After being diagnosed with hyperandrogenism, she was deemed unfit to compete in Sports-barring her from participating in any of the future games and compelling her to live a life of destitute for 10 long years. In October 2016, The Sports Minister of Tamil Nadu, appointed her a permanent coach and in a media report mentioned that “this appointment order is an attempt to restore the dignity of a Tamil sportswoman.” Today, she trains young sports women to pave their paths of glory into sports, but the damage has already been done. An ambitions sportswomen like Shanti, who with her accolades had brought fame to her country has been treated with utmost disgrace.

Dutee Chand, however, has turned the tables against this patriarchal line of thought. Dutee, who training for her next big game, had received a call from the director of Athletics Federation of India, asking her to meet him in Delhi. On reaching Delhi, she was sent to a clinic to meet with a doctor, where she had to undergo several tests. After the reports were out, the Federation sent a letter to the Indian Government Sports Authority raising “suspicion” about her muscular physique, suggesting the government to reconsider her name. Thereafter, she was sent to a hospital in Bangalore. Dutee had given her blood samples to determine her “testosterone levels,” a chromosome analysis, an M.R.I and a gynecology exam. The results declared her male chromosomes to be too high and this star Track & Field Athlete who won gold medals for her country in the Asian Junior Athletics Championship, Taiwan was wrongfully disqualified. Athletes with hyperandrogenism had two options– quit sports or undergo a medical intervention surgery and long-term hormone replacement therapy to lower the androgen levels. Dutee, unfettered and agitated, challenged the same at the Court of Arbitration of Sports (CAS) in Switzerland.

Defiance and the result thereof (Dutee Chand v. I.A.A.F)

Chand’s defiance was extremely courageous and she immediately gained support from people all over the world. Dutee Chand, with Sports Authority of India (SAI) paying her bill, approached the CAS. The role of testosterone in an athlete’s performance was heavily debated. At the hearing, both parties agreed that synthetic testosterone (doping in common parlance) does improve one’s performance. The bone of contention, however, was, whether the body’s own testosterone has the same effect.

The Indian Association of Athletics Federation (I.A.A.F) testified that logic suggests that natural testosterone is akin to that of its synthetic twin. To which Chand’s lawyers argued that there is no proof that natural testosterones play a role in improving performance, or allows for sportswomen with hyperandrogenism to have a competitive advantage over the others. Another important question that was raised, was why male sportspersons natural testosterone level, no matter how high, are not regulated? In fact, I.A.A.F’s own witness estimated that women with high testosterone level have a performance advantage of only 1 to 3 percent. Chand’s witnesses also pointed out that researcher had identified more than 200 biological abnormalities that offer special competitive edge, which have not been regulated so far (New York Times Magazine, 2016)

Critics invariably argue that if sports authorities are truly concerned about fairness in sports, their prime focus should be on synthetic doping that has fair and squared proven to have increased an athlete’s performance. The Court issued its ruling on this case and concluded that the influence of natural testosterone level is still unknown. The Court was dissatisfied by their logic of “competitive advantage,” for the lack of scientific evidence and also deemed it to be discriminatory. The Court has suspended the policy until July 2017 to give I.A.A.F time to prove that the degree of competitive advantage in the light of this case. Dutee Chand has eventually competed and so have many other female others who were the victims of the brutal gender Verification Tests.

Conclusion:

In the era of Equal Opportunity, it seems completely archaic and regressive to subject women to Gender Verification Tests. The tests are in complete violation of a woman’s right to privacy, dignity and the right to play. All of which are universally recognized legal rights. Sadly enough, no action has been taken against the authorities defending their Human Rights. Shanti Soundarajan, had lodged a complaint with the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) voicing the discrimination she had to face for failing the Gender Verification Test. But, unfortunately, the Commission rejected her plea on technical grounds for not falling within the limitation period (legal deadline) of one year. It’s truly unfortunate that all arguments only make such tests a strong case for ‘Biological Racism.’

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Preethi Kavilikatta

Preethi Kavilikatta

Preethi Kavilikatta is a Journalism and Law graduate from Mumbai. An alumna of University of Mumbai & Symbiosis Law School, Pune. Her interest for Sports Law is new-found and would love to learn a lot more in the coming future. She is passionate about writing, is a bleeding heart and loves English Literature.
Preethi Kavilikatta

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