Athletics Discovers Intersex

Gender and sport have been uneasy bedfellows for a long time. Many of you will remember the story of Caster Semenya, and you may have seen me write about Santhi Soundarajan. The International Association of Athletics Federations have stumbled from one ridiculous rule to another trying to decide who is female and who isn’t. Thankfully they no longer require female athletes to strip and be examined. They have also given up on “gender testing”, by which they mean looking at chromosomes because, unlike Germaine Greer, they believe in the existence of intersex people — specifically in Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome, which means that the person in question has been born with a Y chromosome but is unable to process testosterone and so develops naturally as female. Interestingly, while the incidence of AIS amongst the general population is around 1 in 20,000, the incidence amongst elite female athletes is around 1 in 420, despite those women not having any help from testosterone.

More recently the IAAF has adopted a test for that they call “hyperandrogenism”, which basically measures the level of testosterone in the body and checks to see if it is within the typical male range or within the typical female range. Unfortunately those ranges do overlap, especially where athletes are concerned. What is more, athletes who had been assigned female at birth, who were raised as women, and who identified as women, were being banned from competition because according to the hyperandrogenism test they were “really men”, unless they agreed to undergo medical modification similar to that used on trans women to change their biology.

Once such woman was Indian sprinter Dutee Chand. She decided not be allow herself to be bullied by the old men in blazers and took the IAAF to court. On Monday the Court for Arbitration of Sport ruled in her favor. The IAAF has been given two years to provide better scientific evidence to back up their rule, but it seems unlikely that they will be able to do so given that the Court’s ruling was based on science that blew holes in it.

As the excellent Indian feminist paper, The Ladies Finger, notes, this is not just a matter of science. It is very much a case of how women’s identities are policed. They rightly connect it to the fuss about Serena Williams who is constantly accused of being “really a man” even though there is no scientific basis for this claim.

Their article also points to the case of trans women athletes. As I noted above, the treatment that trans women undergo specifically blocks the effect of testosterone on the body and, if surgery is used, can prevent it being made. This is exactly what the IAAF wanted done to Dutee Chand to remove the supposed advantage of her elevated testosterone levels. Nevertheless, women like Fallon Fox are constantly accused of having an advantage in sport because they once had much more masculine bodies. To their credit, most sporting bodies now understand the science and allow trans women to compete, but this doesn’t stop the media and general public complaining.

Goodness only knows where Janae Marie Kroc fits into all this. She’s got one heck of a body as a result of her time as a world champion weightlifter, and it isn’t clear how much medical intervention she is planning on having. From what she says about herself she identifies as non-binary, and that is likely to explode the brains of most sports administrators.

It is a brave new world that we are creating, and sport is stuck on the bleeding edge whether it likes it or not.