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Sex verification in sports

Victoria State Government provides funding as a strategic partner of The Conversation AU. Swinburne University of Technology provides funding as a member of The Conversation AU. The Conversation UK receives funding from Hefce, Hefcw, SAGE, SFC, RCUK, The Nuffield Foundation, The Ogden Trust, The Royal Society, The Wellcome Trust, Esmée Fairbairn Foundation and The Alliance for Useful Evidence, as well as sixty five sex verification in sports members.

Caster Semenya has been the centre of gender-testing discussions for several years now. The second week of the Olympics is almost upon us, bringing on the athletics competition. Caster Semenya, a talented middle-distance runner, carried the South African flag at the Opening Ceremony of the 2012 London Olympics. The road she travelled to get to this Olympics was a particularly challenging one as not only did she have to qualify, she also had to prove that she was a woman.

I’ve learned two things about gender testing and sport that I found interesting. First, there is no definitive gender test. And second, only women’s sport worries about gender testing. I’ll take the second point first. Because men are considered advantaged in sport, men’s sport is not concerned about women passing as men to participate. If a woman wants to compete as a man, good luck to her. She might be disqualified if discovered, but no one would be on the lookout for her.

Women’s sport, though, cares very much if men try to participate. Because men have physical advantages, they are unfairly advantaged in contests with women in most sports. This brings me back to my first point: there is no definitive gender test. Chromosome testing might seem definitive, but there are a number of conditions where an infant with XY chromosomes can develop as a female.

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