For the first time in over 50 years, women competing in the Olympics have not been subject to sex-testing, a shocking practice that has for years allowed sports governing organizations to police the gender and sex of women athletes, sometimes with devastating consequences.
The ban on sex-testing for this year’s 2016 Rio Olympic Games, which has more women competing than ever before, was brought on by sprinter Dutee Chand, one of the many athletes whose gender has been called into question.
Before qualifying, Chand was required to complete an ultrasound, MRI testing, a gynecological exam, a chromosome analysis and a blood test. The tests determined that she had elevated levels of testosterone. Both the International Olympics Committee (IOC) and the International Association of Athletics Federation (IAAF) ordered that she could not compete, due to having an unfair advantage over the other athletes.
Last July, Chand fought against the ruling. The Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) ruled in favor of Chand, stating, “Although athletic events are divided into discrete male and female categories, sex in humans is simply not binary.” There is insufficient scientific proof that higher testosterone levels do, in fact, result in significant performance advantages.
The case resulted in a temporary suspension of sex-testing in the Olympics. The CAS granted IAAF two years to present evidence justifying its regulations. If evidence fails to emerge, sex-testing will permanently become a thing of the past.
Sex-testing has been used to determine whether or not women athletes were “female enough” since the 1960s. Known as “nude parades,” groups of female athletes were required to strip naked in front of a panel of judges. The committee later shifted to chromosome assessments and gene detection measures. Other procedures have included hormone tests as well as genital and reproductive organ examinations. Those who have not met the standards have been disqualified from competing, shamed in the media, had their medals revoked and even been murdered.
While these tests are no longer mandatory for all female athletes, they are still employed for those whose biological sex is questioned.