Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The IOC Draws A Line in the Sand of Sex (But Only for Women)

On April 5 the International Olympic Committee released new rules for determining whether or not women who have higher than usual levels of naturally produced testosterone will be eligible to compete in women’s sports. Though the IOC denies it, it seems likely that this clarification is motivated by the embarrassing and shameful handling of the challenge to South African runner, Caster Semenya, two years ago at the World Championships.

The new rules, which will be in place for the London Olympics in 2012, state that a “panel of independent medical experts” will examine any woman found through a blood test to have “hyperandrogenism” and then make a recommendation about whether she should be eligible to compete. These situations will be handled on a case by case basis and the athlete will be referred to “specialist medical centers around the world” where they will be checked to see if they have any conditions that are a health risk that need treatment.

This process will be triggered in three ways: an athlete can request an “evaluation.” (Pause). I am trying to imagine a woman stopping by her nearest “specialized medical center” to ask, “Can you tell me if I am a woman or not? I can run so fast, I’ve begun to question” The second trigger is if during routine urine testing for performance enhancing drugs, the required observer notices that the athlete has “male characteristics.” This would be a penis, I assume. The third trigger is that drug testing results reveal “abnormal” testosterone levels. One good thing about these new rules is that it will no longer be possible for competitors to trigger an investigation on the basis of their perception that a woman is “too” masculine in appearance or performance. The IOC promises “strict confidentiality” for this process.

If the athlete is ruled ineligible, she would be informed of what “conditions she needs to meet in order to return to competition.” Presumably this could include forcing the athlete to take some kind of drug that suppresses her natural level of testosterone. (How can that be normal?) Athletes who are ruled ineligible for competition as women will also be ineligible to compete with men effectively banishing them to a “third sex freak” category athletically.

There is no question that determining sex is a very complicated process. The IOC is determined to draw a line that separates the men from the women for the purposes of determining athletic eligibility when most medical experts who specialize in this area agree that drawing a hard and fast line is pretty tricky.

The IOC claims that their focus on drawing this line separating men from women is about insuring a “level competitive playing field.” However, as Alice Dreger points out, far more eloquently than I can, the IOC only seems concerned about level playing fields for women only. Their new rule is inherently sexist. No one on the IOC medical panel seems at all concerned about male athletes with “abnormally” high testosterone levels having an unfair advantage over their less “manly” competitors. The IOC seems only concerned about policing women’s bodies and insuring that only “normal” women are allowed to compete. Of course, they get to decide who is normal.

Will we next rule ineligible women who are “too” tall, or have “abnormal” oxygen update capacities or “too many” fast twitch muscle fibers? Once we start excluding women athletes based on their naturally occurring physiological differences and labeling those who have exceptional capacities “not normal,” where does it end?

I am especially concerned that this policy could be adopted by college and high school athletic governing organizations. Policies that stigmatize girls or women with exceptional natural physical characteristics or athletic abilities as abnormal will not promote inclusion, fairness or excellence in women’s sports and will only serve to perpetuate the belief that only some women athletes, those deemed “normal” by arbitrary social standards, are welcome.

16 comments:

Wyman Stewart said...

You didn't offer a solution. Why?

Good or bad, I offer this solution: Everyone competes in the same category in a sport, whatever your sport, and however you wish to enhance yourself is fine (no need for testing), with the usual medals awarded.

We already know people are going to cheat, whatever their sex may be. Great athletes are not NORMAL. If they were, we would all be great athletes or would that be average atheletes? Like NASCAR tries to do, we can attempt to make all things equal, so it is any athelete on any given day, who can win by putting together the right combination of whatever you want to call it; but what does that prove? Nothing.

True sports requires honesty, integrity, dedication, and skill. You still see that at various levels of sports competition, but I admit it is rarer with each passing year, at all levels. We can pretend this is not so, which is what we are doing now, or we can admit the truth and live with the truth. If a human being wants to load performance enhancing drugs into that person's system, whatever the longterm effects, maybe it is time to let them. We can see how long the public buys into this kind of sports.

Athletes, espeically your greatest athletes, at some genetic or chemical level are superior to all, except others like them. This is measurable in some areas; in other areas, we may never be able to measure this. When is a man not a man? When is a woman not a woman? Hard to say. We celebrate some freaks of nature; deride and punish other freaks of nature.

Come on Pat Griffin, tell me you wouldn't like to go one-on-one with LeBron James and whip him in a game to 21. More power to you, if you can do that. Nothing wrong about that. Bet your usual vitamins would be your only enhancement, before taking him on, too. :-)

Wyman Stewart said...

Yes, the above was saying, let the women compete against the men or is that men against the women? We may have reached an age where there is merit in that.

In some cases, this may be the only way women (whatever that term means) will be able to improve to a level where we can discover whether "women" can compete with men (whatever that term means). But let us not pretend this will not lead to the disappearance of many who compete in sports today.

I saw it happen in high school basketball. For years white boys, then white girls, would not try-out for high school teams. They said the coaches would choose black kids over white kids. Nevermind whether this was true, it was embedded in their brain as a "truth." I know, for I tried to convince them otherwise.

I am sure in some girls' sports this is true concerning lesbians in sports. No one wishes to address these issues. It's easier to pretend such issues don't exist. However, if sports like the WNBA and women's baseball is ever to take hold in the consciousness of the American sports fan, it may first be necessary for women to rise to a certain level of skill in their sports, comparable to men's sports. In the past, when I have tried to watch the WNBA, I found it dull, boring, and laughable; even as I realized most of these ladies and lesbians were far better than I ever was in basketball. They're game paled before the NBA men's game and major men's college basketball.

How do you improve the WNBA? Possibly only by playing against men, who are better than the WNBA's women. There are plenty of quality unemployed men's players, who might jump at the chance to play for pay in preseason games against women. There are solutions beyond complaining. Good luck in coming to the day when you realize I am a sports fan before I am a political sports fan. Yes, I do come here for the politics. Still, it would be more fun to enjoy the sports without the politics. I once did that. No more it seems.

Wyman Stewart said...

Apparently, under Title lX, men are permitted as part of a women's practice squad and are counted as women for compliance purposes. Found this in a news story.

Truth is stranger than fiction! Gives a whole new meaning to the phrase, "You go girl!"

And I thought my suggestions above hadn't been implemented yet. I stand corrected.

Is there a modern sports manual out there, dinosaurs like me can read, to bring me back into the sports loop? Sports used to be much simpler; a bat, ball, and glove--now you need a manual, a lawyer, federal oversight, and the courts; even before you take the field.

Anonymous said...

I suppose sports were a lot more simple when people could just discriminate at will.. now there is all this fuss about how we treat people. Discrimination is simple for the oppressor.

Diane said...

Anyone know where I might express my utter disgust with this policy? I guess there needs to be something to decide if someone who identifies as a woman has some kind of unfair advantage, I'm just flummoxed this is the best they could come up with.

kristenworley said...

Pat thank-you - Well Done! - Kristen

adapalene gel said...

Well said, I think sports has some different meaning in every one's life but the motto of sports that it release our tension and give us edutainment and relaxation. So forget all and enjoy the sports

FEROMONAS said...

So now they are going to determine what percentage of men or women we are? Crazy.

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