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Is the International Olympic Committee’s policy governing sex verification fair?

Updated 06-25-12: The International Olympic Committee has adopted the gender-policing policies discussed here last week. In a statement sent to reporters yesterday, Karkazis repeated her assertion that the policies are "unfair, unscientific and possibly discriminatory against women who may not meet traditional notions of femininity."


06-18-12: In an article published in the New York Times today, Stanford bioethicist Katrina Karkazis, PhD, and Barnard College researcher Rebecca Jordan-Young, PhD, argue that the International Olympic Committee’s proposed new policy governing sex verification is neither fair nor rationale, and they offer recommendations for retooling the eligibility guidelines for Olympic female athletes. From the piece:

Testosterone is one of the most slippery markers that sports authorities have come up with yet. Yes, average testosterone levels are markedly different for men and women. But levels vary widely depending on time of day, time of life, social status and — crucially — one’s history of athletic training. Moreover, cellular responses range so widely that testosterone level alone is meaningless.

Testosterone is not the master molecule of athleticism. One glaring clue is that women whose tissues do not respond to testosterone at all are actually overrepresented among elite athletes.

As counterintuitive as it might seem, there is no evidence that successful athletes have higher testosterone levels than less successful ones.


Sex segregation is probably a good idea in some sports, at some levels and at some moments. But it is time to refocus policy discussions at every level so that sex segregation is one means to achieve fairness, not the ultimate goal. Ensuring gender equity through access to opportunity is just as important.

Unlike in doping cases, women with hyperandrogenism have not cheated. There is no reason to disqualify women whose bodies produce any of the complex ingredients that add up to athleticism, be they superb vision, big lungs, flexibility, long legs or testosterone.

Karkazis also discussed the issue of sex testing for elite female athletes in a recent 1:2:1 podcast.

Previously: Researchers challenge proposed testosterone testing in select female Olympic athletes and Gender ambiguity gets attention
Photo by Paul Foot

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