New York. — With the rescheduled Tokyo Olympics approaching in July, Human Rights Watch on Friday demanded that track and field officials halt sex testing of female athletes, describing the practice of measuring and restricting their natural testosterone levels as abusive and harmful.
Sex testing has been a deeply contentious issue in sports for decades, but the dispute has been heightened since 2018, when track and field’s world governing body instituted its latest rules regarding intersex athletes like Caster Semenya of South Africa, a two-time Olympic champion runner at 800 meters. The sport’s regulations have inflamed debates about biological sex, gender identity and fair play.
Semenya and others who have what are called differences of sexual development, or DSDs, are required to suppress naturally elevated testosterone levels — through hormonal therapy or surgery — before competing internationally in women’s running races at distances from the quarter mile to the mile.
World Athletics, track and field’s governing body, acknowledges that the restrictions are discriminatory, but says they are necessary to ensure a level playing field.
Semenya, who identifies as a woman and has declined to undergo testosterone suppression, has lost appeals before the Court of Arbitration for Sport, which is based in Switzerland, and the Swiss Supreme Court. Last month, her lawyers said she would take her case to the European Court of Human Rights, though it is unclear if any decision can be reached before the Tokyo Games, scheduled to start on July 23. Otherwise, Semenya (29) has suggested she will try to run the 200m, an event free of the recently introduced testosterone restrictions, at the Olympics.
In a 120-page report, the New York-based Human Rights Watch amplified with athletes’ voices what critics of the current testosterone regulations have long argued: that they are medically unnecessary and humiliating; encourage coerced medical intervention; can result in physical and psychological injury and the loss of careers; violate fundamental rights to privacy, dignity, health, non-discrimination and employment; and adhere to standards of femininity that are racially biased, disproportionately affecting women of color from Africa, Asia, Latin America and Oceania.
“Whether it is hormone therapy or surgery, why should a perfectly healthy woman agree to do so to compete in sports?” Francine Niyonsaba of Burundi in East Africa said in an email to The New York Times. She finished second to Semenya in the 800 at the 2016 Olympics and is also affected by the testosterone regulations.
Like Semenya, Niyonsaba has refused to undergo hormone suppression and is now training to run the 5 000 metres, a distance at which the biological restrictions do not apply.
“They treat us as if we are cheats,” Niyonsaba said. “We deserve to be respected as athletes, as champions.”
The report was based on interviews last year with 13 female athletes from African and Asian countries, as well as input from lawyers, doctors, academics and medical ethicists. Annet Negesa, an intersex middle-distance runner from Uganda, told researchers that an operation to remove her internal testes was performed in 2012 without her consent.
The operation, she said, left her battling headaches and achy joints and ruined her career. — New York Times.