POSTED: August 17th 2015

JOHN GOODBODY: Indian sprinter's win is a game changer for sport

Dutee Chand / Indian Express
Dutee Chand / Indian Express

THE JOHN GOODBODY COLUMN / An authoritative and exclusive series from Sports Features Communications

(SFC) As if athletics doesn't have enough problems. With the World Championships in Beijing beginning later this week and the new president of the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) to be elected on Wednesday, there should be an anticipatory thrill about the sport which is the centrepiece of the Olympic Games.

However, with the reports of The Sunday Times in London and the German TV station ARD on the allegations of malpractice in doping continuing to impact on the sport, another important issue has almost been obscured, one that is likely to have huge implications for the participation of women in sport.

The Court for Arbitration in Sport (CAS) has upheld the appeal of Dutee Chand, an Indian female sprinter, that she should be permitted to take part in international athletics and not have to undergo any corrective treatment for her naturally high levels of testosterone, which are usually only found in men and led to her being banned from competing in the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow.

Chand, 19, who took gold medals in both the 100 and 200 metres in the 2013 Asian Junior Championships, had taken the IAAF, backed by the International Olympic Committee, to arbitration so that she could continue her sprinting career without either having an operation to limit how much testosterone her body produced or undergoing hormone-suppressing drugs to lower her testosterone level.

The CAS decided that the IAAF had to suspend its 'hyperandrogenism' regulation for two years, which would then have to be abandoned unless it came up with further scientific evidence to support its ruling. This regulation was introduced following the 800 metres victory of South African Caster Semenya at the 2009 World Championships, amidst controversy about whether she had been subjected to any gender verification.

It has never been revealed whether she subsequently underwent any treatment. She returned for the 2011 World Championships and the 2012 Olympics, in which she finished second in the 800 metres on both occasions, with her times well below what she achieved in 2009.

Chand told the BBC Hindi service after the CAS hearing: "I never thought I was going to lose"(the case)"because I always knew I was not at fault. I am very thankful to the judges that they have taken a close look at my case and given a decision in my favour. I have got justice. I am a normal girl."

 Peter Sonksen, professor of endocrinology at St.Thomas's Hospital in London, was delighted with the verdict which he termed as a "game-changer" believing that the regulation was discriminatory because from his extensive research on athletes, he discovered that some female had high levels of testosterone and some males had low levels, with instances of them overlapping. This made any regulation meaningless. He said of the IAAF:"I do not think they will able to do what the CAS wants them to do and in two years' time, the regulation will be rescinded."

The implications are considerable. The late Liz Ferris, a doctor, Olympic diving bronze medallist and long-time campaigner for women's rights in sport, had said of Semenya in 2009:"She was brought up as a girl and lives as a woman. She should be allowed to compete."

 Dr. Eric Vilain, a medical geneticist at the University of California Los Angeles, told The New York Times last month that for him it was a victory of identity politics and activism, adding: "Now I am really worried about the future for women in sports because if we push this argument, anyone declaring aa female gender can compete as a woman. We're moving toward one big competition and the very predictable result of that competition is that there will be no women winners."

Whether it is Sebastian Coe or Sergey Bubka who is elected IAAF President this week, the issue of gender verification will be another hefty file in his in-tray after taking office.

** JOHN GOODBODY covered the 2012 Olympics for The Sunday Times, his 12th successive Summer Games and is the author of the audio book A History of the Olympics, read by Barry Davies, the BBC commentator. He was Sports News Correspondent of The Times 1986-2007, for whom he received journalistic awards in all three decades on the paper, including Sports Reporter of The Year in 2001.  

Keywords · Olympics · IAAF

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