Early today, the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) ruled to allow Indian athlete Dutee Chand the right to compete as a woman, since being banned last July under sports regulations for women with naturally high testosterone levels (a.k.a. hyperandrogenism). We celebrate this victory not just for Dutee, but in a long battle fought by intersex athletes, activists, and allies against decades of discriminatory policies against intersex female athletes.
In 1968, the era of “mandatory gender verification testing” of all female athletes began, presumably aimed at exposing males competing as women for a better chance of winning. The tests initially consisted of female athletes being required to strip down in front of male officials for visual genital inspections, but this was soon abandoned in favor of chromosome testing, as it could be performed with a non-invasive swab to the inside of the athletes’ mouths. However, the process did not uncover men dressed as women, but rather, intersex women with XY (typically male) chromosomes, which occurs in a variation known as Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome (AIS).
Countless intersex women were stripped of their careers, dreams, and public identity as women due to these tests, some committing suicide as a result. The testing was abandoned in 1999, however, after intersex Spanish hurdler Maria Patino (today a professor at the University of Vigo), fought the 1986 ruling banning her from competition, and won. Patino demonstrated that she had no functional testosterone (which is the case in complete AIS, known as CAIS). Given popular assumptions about testosterone’s impact, it was decided that she and others like her could not have a competitive advantage, and chromosome tests were deemed unnecessary.
However, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the International Association of Athletics Federations (I.A.A.F.), still maintained a policy wherein individual female athletes could be tested upon suspicion. The problems with this non-uniform, subjective policy came to light in 2009, when South African track star Caster Semenya was accused of being a man by two fellow female athletes and stripped of her gold medal and ability to compete. OII came to Semenya’s defense, via television and print interviews with OII Chairperson and OII-USA Founder and E.D. Hida Viloria, and a petition to the IOC drafted by Viloria and approved by OII’s board.
OII’s petition demanded that Semenya be allowed to compete without medically unnecessary “normalizing” treatments, and it received support from notable academics and human rights leaders, particularly in Europe. That, along with subsequent lobbying, led to Viloria being invited to participate at the IOC’s October 2010 meeting to re-evaluate existing policies on intersex female athletes, held in Lausanne, Switzerland.
Unfortunately, although Viloria lobbied, along with others at the meeting, for intersex women athletes to be allowed to compete as is, the IOC and IAAF adopted new, discriminatory regulations in 2011. The regulations banned female athletes with naturally high testosterone levels (hyperandrogenism) from competing as women unless they underwent “normalizing” treatments — despite the lack of scientific evidence that women with hyperandrogenism have a competitive advantage over other women.
Viloria spoke out against the policies, both in solo publications, and with others such as intersex scholar and author Georgiann Davis (in an essay co-authored for Ms. magazine), and intersex scholar and ex-athlete Maria Patino in an article co-authored for the American Journal of Bioethics. Viloria and Patino argued that the policies were discriminatory due to three factors: the lack of scientific evidence to justify the “unfair advantage” claims, the scientific evidence against the testosterone theory (which Viloria has presented at the IOC meeting), and the critiques of intersex women’s gender expression as “overly masculine” which were made by non-intersex female athletes to justify the policies. In addition, ally and Stanford scholar Katrina Karkazis and her colleague Rebecca Jordan Young, of Barnard, also stepped forward to speak out against the discriminatory nature of the policies, publishing several pieces on the issue.
On Human Rights Day, December, 2013, Viloria joined tennis legend Martina Navratilova, one of the first openly lesbian athletes, and pro basketball player Jason Collins, the first openly gay NBA player, to advocate for human rights for intersex people. S/he drew attention to the discrimination which intersex female athletes — and all intersex people — are routinely subjected to at the event, titled, Sport Comes Out Against Homophobia.
In July, 2014, Indian runner Dutee Chand became a target of the policies, and was banned from competition. However, she decided, like Maria Patino before her, to fight the ruling, and Karkazis and others, like Indian scholar Payoshi Mitra, soon came to her aid. They formed the Let Dutee Run campaign, and supported Dutee’s efforts both online and during her hearing in front of the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS). In addition, Karkazis and Viloria continued bringing awareness to the issue through a joint appearance on Ajazeera’s The Stream, and published critiques of the sports policies.
Yesterday, the CAS announced that it had ruled in Dutee’s favor, stating that unless the IAAF is able to provide evidence that naturally high testosterone levels confers an advantage, the policies will be banned for good! They have given the IAAF a two year limit in order to attempt to do so, and in the meantime, all women athletes who are not doping will be allowed to compete as is.
We thank the CAS for their ruling, which indeed benefits all women, not just those with naturally high testosterone levels. We also extend an enormous thank you to everyone who has supported intersex women athletes over the years! We especially commend and thank Katrina Karkazis for her allyship, and Dutee Chand for her courage and strength in fighting the discriminatory policies and ruling against her. It’s wonderful to see that sometimes justice wins after all!
References links coming shortly.