Track and Field Athletes (Matt Lee on Unsplash)
Track and Field Athletes

Matt Lee on Unsplash

Opinion: Sex Testing Creates a Not-So-Even Playing Field

Sex testing in female athletics has more to do with gender discrimination than ensuring fairness.

February 9, 2020

It is my belief that sex testing and conformation in athletics has more to do with discrimination against women than it has to do with creating a “fair playing field.” Throughout the years, professional athletic associations have deemed it fit to test women based on the assumption that their strong performance could mean that they had high levels of testosterone in their system. For example, professional Indian sprinter Dutee Chand had her career obstructed by the growing theory that her speed and prowess in the sport somehow suggested that she was a male (Gonads 2018). Ahead of competing in the 2014 Commonwealth games, she was pulled out to have multiple tests under false pretenses (Gonads 2018). Through the use of ultrasound for hyperandrogenism testing, it was unveiled that she in fact had hyperandrogenism. Based off this result, they banned her from competing. To them, the high presence of a steroidal hormone (testosterone) in a female-identifying woman meant that she was anything but that. 

The decision to disqualify her, however, is a problem in itself. The use of testosterone as an indicator for whether women can compete or not is flawed. There is no way of actually confirming that testosterone is an actual influencing factor in such athletic success. In fact, tests done by the International Olympic Committee have been challenged by the science community as evidence surrounding whether testosterone increases athleticism or not is insubstantial (Tapper).

Yes, it is true that high testosterone levels put you at a strong advantage through methods like doping performance enhancement. But, even then, testing for naturally high levels of this hormone in athletes is not productive, simply because the body produces and uses testosterone in different ways, and it is only one component, among others, that could contribute to an athlete’s success (Jordan 2012). In addition, even if it could be the sole deciding factor, males too have increased levels of testosterone compared to other males. So, why is such a presence in women such a difficult pill to swallow? It seem like sex testing is a product of gender bias.

There is an ongoing idea that the fairness of a competition is only an issue of gravity in women’s athletics.”

While there is a need to create coherent and fair rules in the athletic world, the situation changes when “clear and fair” only applies to female-identifiers in this field. Fierce competition and elitism are highly encouraged in men’s sports, but as soon as women display any of these characteristics they garner immediate attention. Suddenly, they are seen as “too capable,” as if women performing at such a high caliber is out of the ordinary (Vilian 2012). 

The actual problem is more social than it is biological. Justifications for this kind of judgment and social division stems from ideas such as “protection of women and protecting the purity of women’s competitions”(Jordan 2012). There is an ongoing idea that the fairness of a competition is only an issue of gravity in women’s athletics. I agree that their needs to be fair parameters, but I also believe that gender equality should be the first priority (Jordan 2012). How hypocritical is it to demand a fair atmosphere in sports but then turn around and go out of your way to create a stigma (surrounding having a high testosterone ) that then becomes unfair because of a law or rule created by the investigators themselves? 

Achieving a so called “even playing field” could be achieved by coming to the central understanding that sex testing has done more damage than good and is by no means creating any equality or fairness. 

Works Cited

“Gonards: Dutee.” Radio Lab, WNYC Studios, 22 July 2018, Accessed 19 Sept. 2019.

Jordan-Young, Rebecca, and Katrina Karkazis. “You Say You’re a Woman? That Should Be Enough.” The New York Times, 17 June 2012, Accessed 19 Sept. 2019.

Tapper, Josh. “London 2012: IOC Gender Testing Policy Challenged.” The Star, 14 June 2014, Accessed 5 Nov. 2019.

Vilain, Eric. “Gender Testing for Athletes Remains a Tough Call.” The New York Times, 18 June 2012, Accessed 19 Sept. 2019.

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