Caster Semenya and the Myth of a Level Playing Field
The Modern American, Vol. 6, p. 36, 2011
7 Pages Posted: 14 Dec 2009 Last revised: 28 Dec 2011
Date Written: 2011
This summer, the international governing body of track and field (IAAF) required South African runner Caster Semenya to submit to sex-verification testing after she won the 800 meter event at the World Championships. Though the official results of these tests will not be released, unconfirmed reports leaked to the media suggest that Semenya has an intersex condition related to the presence of internal testes and high levels of testosterone. While the IAAF has decided not to invalidate Semenya's championship result, it has not ruled on her eligibility for future events. This indecision holds open the possibility that an athlete could be disqualified for failing a sex verification test, even without any accompanying evidence or charge that she or her agents intentionally attempted to deceive the sporting world as to her sex.
The controversy surrounding Caster Semenya’s sex provides a useful touchstone for an analysis of sex-verification testing in international sport. As this short essay explains, the justification for sex-verification testing incorporates two presumptions: first, that sex exists in a binary, and that fairness in sport requires a strict separation of the sexes. Once both of these ideas have been exposed as myth, it is clear that attempts to medically police the boundary between men’s and women’s sports are both futile and unwarranted. As long as we continue to organize separate athletic contests for men and women, athletes should be allowed to participate in events consistent with their bona fide gender identity.
Keywords: gender, sports
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