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Hurdling Over Sex? Sport, Science, and Equity

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Between 1968 and 1999, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) required all female athletes to undergo genetic testing as part of its sex verification policy, under the assumption that it needed to prevent men from impersonating women and competing in female-only events. After critics convinced officials that genetic testing was scientifically and ethically flawed for this purpose, the IOC replaced the policy in 1999 with a system allowing for medical evaluations of an athlete’s sex only in cases of “reasonable suspicion,” but this system also created injustice for athletes and stoked international controversies. In 2011, the IOC adopted a new policy on female hyperandrogenism, which established an upper hormonal limit for athletes eligible to compete in women’s sporting events. This new policy, however, still leaves important medical and ethical issues unaddressed. We review the history of sex verification policies and make specific recommendations on ways to improve justice for athletes within the bounds of the current hyperandrogenism policy, including suggestions to clarify the purpose of the policy, to ensure privacy and confidentiality, to gain informed consent, to promote psychological health, and to deploy equitable administration and eligibility standards for male and female athletes.

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Eric Vilain is partially funded by the DSD Translational Research Network (National Institutes of Health grant 1 R01 HD068138). We thank Javier Blas for his assistance with translation during the symposium.

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Correspondence to Eric Vilain.

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Ha, N.Q., Dworkin, S.L., Martínez-Patiño, M.J. et al. Hurdling Over Sex? Sport, Science, and Equity. Arch Sex Behav 43, 1035–1042 (2014).

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