Zimbabwe: Sex Testing of Female Athletes Must End

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.