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Gender Testing in Sports - Essay Example

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Boston College
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Gender testing and verification was introduced in 1966 after fears arose that males with different physical attributes in relation to their muscle mass and strength started cheating and masqueraded as females in various women sporting activities. This was organized by the international Amateur athletic federation (IAAF) to promote fair qualification and eliminate psychological harm among those that participated in the different sporting activities. Initially, there was sex chromatin test which focused only on the sex chromosome elements of gender and for that reason often gave misleading information. This was abandoned later in 1991 in favor of the modern medical checks for all the sportspersons, male and female which exclude the need to test for gender. Subsequently, women were subjected to an additional test which included the use of polymerase chain reaction (PCR) which focused on the DNA sequences on the Y chromosomes to identify the genetic sex of the athletes.

According to Heggie (2010), the relationship between femininity and physical exercise is well documented by history scholars, more than it is done between the relationship between masculinity and sport. For this reason, the prevailing issues at international sporting functions on physique, masculinity, and perpetual risk attached to sterility has been used to segregate women from various sporting activities. During the early twentieth century, female athletes struggled and triumphed in equal measures, which led to their acceptance in the womens struggle in the 1924 Olympics and the spread of national organizations to advocate for women in sporting activities. As the international sporting events took shape, there was a high desire to win among nations as cheating on gender and cheating took place among the women and men. Doping and gender fraud became evident resulting in the mandatory testing for drugs and sexuality at the international events in the late 1960's. The inception of sex test was due to the increased gender fraud, which majorly fulfilled a single stereotype of physical muscle, competitors with deep voice living under totalitarian, and the fascist.

Heggie further added that the ordeal behind gender testing and the historical progression of sex testing in the international sporting arena tell a lot of social attitudes towards gender. It is a tautological process, and the activities recognized as sports have been overwhelming to those that favor the physiology that is considered "masculine." The standard rule in sports is that those who are tall, more masculine and have larger hearts, and lungs have a sporting advantage and therefore demonstrates more masculine physique than those good at sports. The sex test provides an upper limit under which women sporting activities are assessed. Those with a lot of muscle are disqualified regardless of the gender identity. At the same time, there exist numerous genetic variations which results to unfair' advantage in sporting activities, but those linked to gender issues are excluded from athletes.

After sex testing was abandoned, the IAAF and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) formulated new policies in response to issues that revolved around gender in sports. Caster Semenya, the South African athlete whose sex was highly challenged after her spectacular win and physique that led to a heated debate questioning the sex and the legitimacy to participate in sporting activities as female, agitated this. According to Karkazis, Jordan-Young, Davis & Camporesi, the set policies that claim that high level of endogenous testosterone among female athletes need to be regulated. These policies have undergone progressive improvement to guarantee fair competition among the female athletes. They have become more systematic, and therefore more preferred to the ad hoc response to uncertainties on the sex of individual female sports participants. At the same time, the policies appear less invasive and objective as compared to the previous sex testing approaches like routine gynecological assessment and chromosomal test among the female athletes.

The elite athletes have a significant difference from other people in various ways such as the unique genetic mutation that correlates with the extraordinary aerobic ability and the resistance to fatigue. Within the set policies, those who wished to engage in international competitions were assessed in two ways. In case female athlete was diagnosed with hyperandrogenism; there was a need to notify IAAF and undergo an evaluation. Another option was for the IAAF to initiate an investigation of the female athlete, the eligibility of those with hyperandrogenism to participate in women sporting activities. After an athlete undergoes an identification test, other tests are done to assess their gender in totality. These include clinical examination, an endocrine test that involved the blood, urine, and full examination which focused on genetics, image, and the patients' psychology. After the tests, female athletes are allowed to participate in case they meet the set criteria, and policies, especially the testosterone level of 10nmol/L for all the IAAF competitions and in case the test fails to meet the set threshold, a "therapeutic proposal" is applied. A ban can be issued to a player and monitored until the level of testosterone suppresses.

At the beginning of 1998, the international Olympic committee allowed gender verification among female athletes and this continued until 1998 after new policies were implemented which regulated or rather limited how it was conducted. The reason behind this was to prevent male participants and women possessing unique physical attributes from competing in female-only related sporting activities. There were visual observation and gynecological assessments, which were conducted on trials for two years in various competitions, which lead to the 1958 Olympic Games. However, these were later abandoned in favor of the laboratory-based genetic test to validate gender among the participants. In the process, sex chromatin and DNA analysis were needed for all the female participants preceding to the IOC sporting events and other global competitions.

Because of the prevailing changes, the onsite gender confirmation process has been found to be discriminatory and lead to emotional discomfort among sports participants, added with social stigmatization as some of them as screened even after competitions. Since there is no standard merit for chromosome-related screening for gender, and the prevailing ethical differences, the IOC has persisted in its policy for over 30 years. The authors of manuscript worked with some success to repeal the policy and educate the athletes and sporting stakeholders in line with the psychological and physical nature of the sexual differentiation and the differences genetics in the tests. The IAAF later abandoned the element of screening among female participants, and by 1993, a reasonable, and medically fair model for approaching the issue was adopted that focused on the inconsistencies and chromosomes. This led to the abandonment of the onsite testing at the Olympic and other international sporting activities.

According to Martinez-Patino (2005), female athletes were subjected to genetic testing to verify their gender before their participation in sporting activities. This raised numerous questions from the medical practitioners as they questioned ethical issues and efficiency linked to it. This is believed to have added an obstacle to the existing demand that subjected women only before participating in sporting activities. Maria Jose Martinez-Patino gave a personal experience of gender testing and the prevailing discrimination among female in sports activities. She was barred from participating at the world's university games in Kobe when she forgot he gender verification certificate and for that reason, the buccal smear test was to be repeated. The result was that there was an issue with the result and she could not participate in the event. A more complex karyotype analysis was to be conducted, and the result would not reach the sports federation based in Spain in time and get prepared.

These turn of events made her think hard over her life and was deeply worried about her career. The test conducted revealed that out of the 50 counted cells, there were 46 chromosomes and the sex constitution was XY. This means that she had androgen insensitivity and could not respond to testosterone. She was told to withdraw from the sporting activities because of the gender-related complications, but she refused. Later when she won the 60 meters hurdles, her story was leaked, and this compromised her sporting career. A closer analysis of the issue revealed that this was done because she was a woman. At the same time, the existing testing and perception of the society on women was negative, as a majority did not believe that women could perform and even break records in sporting activities. Subsequently, there were changes in regulations to advocate for improved gender testing discrimination and equal opportunity for all females.

Caster Semenya, a South African athlete, is yet another victim who has undergone female verification after winning IAAF world championship. An analysis of the situation indicated that she was subjected to this because of her voice, muscle, and progressive improvement, which was found questionable. According to a journal by Cooky, Dycus & Dworkin(2013), there is a varying contextual analysis of Caster Semenyas Issue. In the U.S., the issue was framed in regards to true sex and musicalized discussions on sex testing and the prevailing limitations on medical testing of male and female agencies in sporting fraternity. In South Africa, media highlighted on the human rights, and patriotism to frame the issue as true female who are aiming towards creating an equal sporting platform for women against perceived racism and gender disparity. There has been gender disparity linked to sex verification among female athletes. Caster Semenya faced a brutal enquiry from sports officials, journalists, and even fellow athletes. She was barred from any competition for some time, as the sex tests were underway. Even if she returned, there was a high degree insensitivity from different people.

Concisely, as international athletics grew, some issues revolved around sex testing as stakeholders worry that some female committed gender fraud in quest of their sporting glory. For this reason, policies were amended as female were required to submit medical documentation to verify their sex. This was later followed by a gynecological assessment to prove their sex, which was seen as most crude and degrading. Later, the test was changed to a more objective and dignified lab test chromosome assessment where an XX result indicated femaleness. The issue has been debated over the years as many advocated for its abolishment since many victims see it as a way of discrimination.


Cooky, C., Dycus, R., & Dworkin, S. L. (2013). What Makes a Woman a Woman? Versus Our First Lady of Sport A Comparative Analysis of the United States and the South African Media Coverage of Caster Semenya. Journal of Sport and Social Issues, 37(1), 31-56.

Elsas, L. J., Ljungqvist, A., Ferguson-Smith, M. A., SImpson, J. L., Genel, M., Carlson, A. S., & Ehrhardt, A. A. (2000). Gender verification of female athletes. Genetics in Medicine, 2(4), 249-254.

Heggie, V. (2010). Testing sex and gender in sports; reinventing, reimagining and reconstructing histories. Endeavour, 34(4), 157-163.

Karkazis, K., Jordan-Young, R., Davis, G., & Camporesi, S. (2012). Out of bounds? A critique of the new policies on hyperandrogenism in elite female athletes. The American Journal of Bioethics, 12(7), 3-16.


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