A sprinter’s landmark case rules in favor of gender fluidity in sports

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Image: AP/Rafiq Maqbool
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Indian female sprinter Dutee Chand, who was banned from official competitions because she scored too high in hormonal testing, has been cleared to race in female categories.

The Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) suspended for two years the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) rules for “hyperandrogenism,” giving permission for Chand to run in national and international athletic events.

In its decision, the international sports arbitration tribunal states that it has been unable to find how hyperandrogenic athletes, or women with excessive testosterone levels, may benefit from “a significant performance advantage” that justifies excluding them from competing in female categories.

The CAS also warns that, if the IAAF does not provide evidence about the relationship between testosterone and athletic performance before the two years suspension period is up, the rule’s ban will be permanent.

The 19-year-old bronze medallist in the Asian games and national under-18 champion for the 100-meter dash was banned from competition last summer. Her career has been on hold since, costing her the chance to compete in both the Commonwealth Games and Asian games.

She failed a testosterone test because her natural level of the hormone surpassed 10 nanomoles per liter; Anything above that the IAAF considers excessive for women. Chand refused to receive hormone suppression treatment and started a legal fight.

Her victory marks a decisive moment for a recurrent issue in sports: the ambiguous line between male and female athletes. Athletic governing bodies have spent decades trying to neatly categorize gender by running gender verification tests, such as chromosomic analysis and simple genitalia inspections.

But the CAS’s ruling says that nature is not always as clean cut as sports regulators might like it to be.

“Although athletics events are divided into discrete male and female categories, sex in humans is not simply binary,” says the court in its 161 pages dissertation, one of longest the tribunal has issued. “As it was put during the hearing: ‘Nature is not neat.’ There is no single determinant of sex.”