UN says sporting bodies must drop female sex tests

The UN has said sporting bodies must immediately remove regulations for women athletes that make it harder for intersex and trans sportspeople to compete.

It is the latest intervention by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in an argument about testosterone levels in female athletes.

In the most famous case, sporting authorities blocked South African runner Caster Semenya from competing. The 800-meters Olympic champion has the intersex condition, hyperandrogenism, which causes higher testosterone levels.

However the UN’s new report points out a number of other cases. They include India’s first openly bisexual international athlete Dutee Chand.

Sporting regulations target women who have variations in their sex characteristics. These variations cause higher than normal levels of ‘male’ hormone testosterone. Indeed, sports bodies claim they can’t compete with other women fairly.

As a result, sporting authorities force them to have invasive testing and medically unnecessary procedures.

Cruel, degrading and even torture

However, the whole thing is based on prejudice, not science. Moreover, the UN Human Rights Commissioner says it may breach international law about torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.

In the report, the UN starkly says: 

‘While the 2018 IAAF [World Athletics] regulations do not force athletes to undergo any assessment or treatment, they leave athletes with the choice of either undergoing these intrusive medically unnecessary assessments or being subjected to treatments with negative impacts on their health and well-being.

‘Such treatments also entail the risk of harm to physical and bodily integrity that may amount to violations of the right to be free from cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment and even torture.’

Indeed, that is just one of a bundle of rights the new report says the regulations are breaching.

Responding to the report, Human Rights Watch has also criticized the rules. It points out they are inherently discriminatory, as ‘there are no similar regulations for men’.

HRW adds: ‘These regulations are stigmatizing, stereotyping, and discriminatory, and have no place in sport or society. They amount to a policing of women’s bodies on the basis of arbitrary definitions of femininity and racial stereotypes.’

Act now, UN says

The UN report calls on sporting bodies, including the International Olympics Committee, to act.

However, the subject remains surprisingly controversial even in LGBT+ sporting circles.

Lesbian former tennis star Martina Navratilova sparked the biggest storm when she spoke against allowing trans athletes to compete in women’s sports.

World Athletics responds: Rules are ‘necessary’

GSN approached World Athletics to ask if they would change their policy in light of the UN report.

But a spokesperson responded:

‘We have common ground in that we both believe it is important to preserve fair competition in female sport so women are free to compete in national and international sport.

‘To do this it is necessary to ensure the female category in sport is a protected category. [This] requires rules and regulations to protect it, otherwise we risk losing the next generation of female athletes, since they will see no path to success in female sport. 

‘The mere creation of a female category is discriminatory. But it can be a necessary and proportionate means of achieving a legitimate objective.

‘This was the reasoning of the Court of Arbitration for Sport when it upheld our female eligibility regulations last year.

‘The Court of Arbitration for Sport found the regulations to be “a necessary, reasonable and proportionate means of attaining a legitimate objective” of ensuring fair competition in female athletics.’


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