What’s Gender Verification?

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Gender verification in sports aims to prevent men from competing as women. Chromosomal testing is used, but it does not account for intersex individuals. A panel reviews failed tests and most disorders of sex differentiation do not confer an advantage. Some suggest using doping tests instead.

Gender verification is a procedure used in sports to ensure that people are qualified to participate in gender-restricted events. The primary goal of gender testing is to prevent men from masquerading as women in events open only to women, on the assumption that male athletes would have an unfair advantage over women. This practice is controversial in some communities due to the risk of false positives, and some organizations have lobbied to ban or radically reform this verification because it is discriminatory.

In the international sports community, gender verification has been used since the 1960s. The gender tests originally began in response to concerns that the Soviet Union was entering male athletes as women, and the initial testing was crude: Athletes were simply ordered to undress for the exam. Modern gender testing involves chromosomal testing, with early chromosomal testing simply looking for the two X chromosomes associated with biological women. Modern tests check for the presence of the Y chromosome associated with males.

The main problem with chromosomal gender testing is that it does not address the problem of people with sex differentiation disorders. Apparently, there are a number of combinations of the X and Y chromosome, such as XXY, XXYY or XXX. Individuals with abnormalities on the sex chromosome are referred to as “intersex.” A famous Polish athlete, Ewa Klobukowska, had just such an anomaly and was banned from competing, despite the fact that doctors agreed that she did not have an unfair advantage. Critics of gender testing point out that she was essentially unfairly discriminated against because of a medical condition she knew nothing about prior to her failed gender test.

Because of the intersex issue, gender testing usually includes a group of people, including an endocrinologist, ob-gyn, psychologist, and internal medicine specialist. Athletes who fail gender tests may be reviewed by this panel to determine whether or not they should be allowed to compete as women. As a general rule, most disorders of sex differentiation confer no additional benefit and, in some cases, actually cause health problems that an athlete must overcome to compete at an international level, so athletes are often cleared to compete after review . Incidentally, post-operative transgender athletes can compete in events such as the Olympics, as long as they have completed at least two years of hormone treatment.

Opponents of gender testing believe the problem could be solved more simply during routine doping tests, when athletes must provide a supervised urine sample. Athletes with the wrong genitalia would presumably be easily identified when providing samples, while intersex individuals would not be targeted.

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