Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Sex Testing at the Olympics

Organizers of the Bejing Olympics have set up a lab to test the sex of women whose femaleness is deemed questionable. This statement raises the hair on the back of my neck. The intention is to catch, what some officials in the Olympic movement call, “man cheats.” They are referring to men who disguise themselves to compete as women.

Never mind that only one instance of such a deception has occurred in the history of the modern Olympics and that was a German man forced to compete as a woman by the Nazis. Never mind that determining a person’s sex by external appearance, chromosomes and genes is not as easy as it seems. Never mind that the test procedure is invasive, humiliating and, according to many medical experts in this area, bad science. Never mind that, rather than rooting out “man cheats,” these sex tests so far have only identified women athletes who have an atypical chromosomal make-up that doesn’t even give them a competitive advantage. Most of the women deemed by these tests to be ineligible to compete as women had no knowledge of their chromosomal difference until they were tested. Medical experts estimate that one in 1,000 babies is intersex, born with atypical chromosome make-up. Many of these intersex people do not have external characteristics that identify them as intersex and live their lives happily without ever knowing.

Prior to the 1968 Olympics sex testing required that women competitors parade nude before a panel of “experts” who decided if the athletes were “really” women based on their physical appearance. In 1968, the testing was “refined” so that all women competitors had to submit to a chromosomal test instead. Finally in 1999, the blanket sex testing of women athletes was eliminated, but the case by case testing of suspect women remains in force.


These “sex verification” tests have done little more than traumatize and humiliate women who have focused a lifetime on competing in the Olympic Games only to find out through a discredited sex test that they are ineligible to compete as women. In almost every case where this has occurred, the test findings were later thrown out. The damage, however, was done, not only to Olympic dreams, but also to a woman’s sense of self and identity. Isn’t there a more effective and respectful means to ensure competitive equity based on current scientific understanding of the complexities of gender and sex than the so-called sex lab in Bejing?

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

This is disgusting discrimination. Are they testing men, too?
Of course not.
What is the actual point, especially when someone who is admittedly (post-op) transgender is fully qualified to compete after a 2-year period? That would seem to indicate that being "different" than the typical female is NOT the point--so what is? Time for each country to do their own pre-emptive testing, not that it makes a difference, because if you've got a hinky chromosome of any kind, there's simply not a damn thing you can do about it. But you could avoid getting some seriously shocking news just before you'd planned to compete in an event you've probably trained for half your life.
Way to go, IOC.

bj gomez said...

This disgusts me! Being a pre Title IX woman, I remember the misogynistic commentaries on women athletes - especially those from the Soviet Union and Germany, in the 60's. The main theme: are they really women? How can "our"women compete when they are feminine? Plus all of the queer bating...

So, how far have we come? These tests are a sorry example of how far we still have to go!

I honor all of our athletes! And apologize for the indignities they are forced to endure!

viagra online said...

It is a subject of much debate, both sides have their valid arguments, but I think it is ok that they do it.

Stephen Hutch said...

Great article!

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