Sunday, July 1, 2012

Gender Determination at the 2012 Olympic Games

With the 2012 summer Olympic games less than four weeks away, it’s worth asking: How will the International Olympics Committee (IOC) determine the gender of an athlete, if his/her gender is called into question?   You may recall the embarrassing incident suffered by Caster Semenya back in 2009 when she won the 800-meter event at an international track and field event (this blog Sept. 7, 2009).  It took another 10 months for a committee to decide she could compete as a woman (this blog July 7, 2010).  The delay and uncertainty were embarrassments for Ms. Semenya and for the international track and field governing body.

Here’s the IOC has tried in the past and what they’ll be doing this year in London:

1) The “nude parade”.  In the 1960 and 1964 games, female athletes were required to walk nude in front of a physician.   Aside from the obvious invasion of privacy issue, some people are born with both male and female genitalia, making the policy essentially ineffective.

2) Chromosome analysis.  By 1968 the IOC was using chromosome analysis to establish sex – XX for female and XY for male.  But some males have an extra X chromosome, and some females are missing the X. Should they be allowed to compete?

3) Hormone tests.  This year the IOC proposes to use testosterone levels to determine gender.  Males generally have much higher testosterone levels, of course, but in there can be a fairly wide range of testosterone levels in both genders.   Can the IOC be absolutely certain that there is no natural overlap, ever, in testosterone levels between males and females?

It’ll be interesting to see if any gender controversies arise in London this year.

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