Dutee Chand’s goal is to compete as a member of her country’s track and field team. However, in September the eighteen-year old Indian sprinter was banned from international competition after she failed a “gender test” under rules established by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF).
Chand has appealed the ban through the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) in Switzerland. She becomes the first athlete in history to challenge the IAAF’s standards which determine whether an individual can compete as a female. The IAAF adopted new guidelines, which are also followed by the International Olympic Committee (IOC), after the controversy surrounding South African runner Caster Semenya in 2009.
Like Chand, Semenya was suspended from international competition after her gender was called into question. She was allowed to resume her career eleven months later after a group of experts who had been convened to weigh in on the matter couldn’t agree on what the standards for gender should be.
Chand’s tests disclosed that she suffers from a condition known as hyperandrogenism, a medical term that denotes elevated levels of testosterone in females. Even the average layman knows that testosterone increases strength and muscle mass in humans. What isn’t entirely clear, even to experts, is how much, if any, testosterone affects athletic performance.
Chand’s case isn’t Barry Bonds redux. The former San Francisco Giants’ outfielder was alleged to have taken PEDs knowingly and willingly in an effort to obtain a competitive advantage. All parties in the Chand case admit that her medical condition results from natural causes, which is of little consolation to the frustrated teenager as she sits impatiently on the side lines.
The gender test established by the IAAF involves an anatomical evaluation, blood testing, a genetic analysis, a chromosomal analysis and a psychological evaluation. The tests are offensive, invasive, humiliating and degrading, not to mention controversial. In addition, the tests are inconclusive even to members of the scientific community. Critics also claim the tests are arbitrary and psychologically damaging.
After extensive research on what constitutes a female vs. a male, one study concluded that “there can be no perfect ‘male’ or ‘female.’” Perhaps acknowledging the foregoing, the IAAF claims the tests aren’t designed to determine gender, but to “maintain equality in competition.” However, this is the same body that allowed Oscar Pistorius to compete against able bodied runners, even though he is allowed to use manufactured legs designed specifically for running, carbon fibre blades that, unlike flesh and blood, aren’t subject to fatigue or injury and can be replaced in seconds if they break or are damaged.
The options available to an athlete who runs afoul of the IAAF test are limited. Chand can undergo surgery and drug therapy designed to lower her testosterone levels or she can quit competing. A number of athletes that have failed the gender test have undergone hormonal treatment. At least four athletes who competed in the London Olympics in 2012 are known to have undergone surgery, which was described as a “partial clitoridectomy with a bilateral gonadectomy followed by a deferred feminizing vaginoplasty,” which was in turn followed by estrogen replacement therapy.
According to Chris Turner of the IAAF communications department, the governing body’s regulation is “based on extensive international expertise in both ethics and medical science.” I don’t claim to know much about medical science, but I have taught ethics for a number of years and have yet to come across an ethical theory that justifies the mutilation of healthy human beings for the purpose of maintaining “equality in competition.”
Chand’s case is expected to be decided within six months. In the meantime, what she and her family are going through is, in her words, “so humiliating.” “I just hope and pray that my case sets a precedent so that others like me don’t have to suffer the kind of trauma I am going through,” Chand told an Indian newspaper.
The irony in all this is that Chand’s performances to date have hardly been of the elite variety. It’s unlikely, even if she was allowed to compete, that her presence would alter her country’s goal total. But the IAAF adopted the rules, so they have no choice but to enforce them, as ill- conceived as they are. Here’s hoping CAS makes the correct call and overturns the IAAF ban.