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Genet Med. 2000 Jul-Aug;2(4):249-54.

Gender verification of female athletes.

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1
Department of Pediatrics, Emory University School of Medicine, Atlanta, Georgia 30322, USA.

Abstract

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) officially mandated gender verification for female athletes beginning in 1968 and continuing through 1998. The rationale was to prevent masquerading males and women with "unfair, male-like" physical advantage from competing in female-only events. Visual observation and gynecological examination had been tried on a trial basis for two years at some competitions leading up to the 1968 Olympic Games, but these invasive and demeaning processes were jettisoned in favor of laboratory-based genetic tests. Sex chromatin and more recently DNA analyses for Y-specific male material were then required of all female athletes immediately preceding IOC-sanctioned sporting events, and many other international and national competitions following the IOC model. On-site gender verification has since been found to be highly discriminatory, and the cause of emotional trauma and social stigmatization for many females with problems of intersex who have been screened out from competition. Despite compelling evidence for the lack of scientific merit for chromosome-based screening for gender, as well as its functional and ethical inconsistencies, the IOC persisted in its policy for 30 years. The coauthors of this manuscript have worked with some success to rescind this policy through educating athletes and sports governors regarding the psychological and physical nature of sexual differentiation, and the inequities of genetic sex testing. In 1990, the International Amateur Athletics Federation (IAAF) called for abandonment of required genetic screening of women athletes, and by 1992 had adopted a fairer, medically justifiable model for preventing only male "impostors" in international track and field. At the recent recommendation of the IOC Athletes Commission, the Executive Board of the IOC has finally recognized the medical and functional inconsistencies and undue costs of chromosome-based methods. In 1999, the IOC ratified the abandonment of on-site genetic screening of females at the next Olympic Games in Australia. This article reviews the history and rationales for fairness in female-only sports that have led to the rise and fall of on-site, chromosome-based gender verification at international sporting events.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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