2008 Olympics Coverage: China to gender test "suspicious" female athletes

Amy Hendel Health Guide
  • "Are you a man or a woman? Prove it."


    I am the type of female who still loves to look a guy up and down and decide if he is "hot or not."  For that matter, I also enjoy assessing women for "great legs, a great bun, unbelievably gorgeous arms" - after all I'm a personal trainer - it goes with the turf.  But apparently much, much more is going on in China as it prepares to host the Olympics in August.  Are you "guy or gal" has become the resounding phrase as China decides to assess athletes - fairly or unfairly - for their gender.


    There are already rules on the Olympic books that cover sexual determination in the sense of transsexual athletes and what to do if one is discovered.  And in all fairness - there may be a problem with a guy who becomes a girl, in terms of physical performance.  But that's not what's being discussed here.  The Chinese have decided that suspicious women athletes need to be examined for confirmation that they are, indeed, real women.  Now I'm not sure what you might use as the definition of a real woman, but apparently it involves a certain presentation of genitalia and other body parts.  You realize that this ONLY involves females - apparently "boys will be boys."  Now let's not judge the Chinese too harshly - after all, in Russia in the 60's "suspect women" were asked to parade nude in front of a panel of doctors and "if they didn't appear to look right down there," they didn't pass muster and could not participate. 

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    The problem according to medical experts is that there can be an awful lot of variation when it comes to gender identification.  Sure XX is female and XY is male, when it comes to chromosome analysis,  but beyond that exists a sizable part of the population that have genitalia that would blur the lines of what we traditionally think of as male or female - even if the chromosome situation is typical.  The international sports community has been grappling with this for decades and they came to the conclusion a while ago that gender verification is just not feasible - it doesn't work.  So dividing people up as male female in day-to-day life is easy - doing it scientifically is a whole other can of worms.  So what the Chinese are trying to do isn't fair - or sportsman-like or appropriate.  Steroid testing - absolutely; gender verification - big mistake.  And frankly, experts say the impact of telling an athlete (in this case female) that she "doesn't pass" as a female, visually - according to their standards - can begin a life-long journey of low self-esteem, depression and someone who is talented and bows out of any further competition because of the new label.


    What will happen? I think the next few days and weeks will be quite telling in this matter and it will be interesting to see if any high profile athletes get singled out, and then, you can bet, a bigger outcry will surely begin.

Published On: August 06, 2008