After months of uncertainty, the story of 20-year-old Indian sprinter Dutee Chand seems headed for a happy ending. Last year, Chand, who was seen as one of the country’s most promising athletes, was suddenly told she would not be allowed to compete alongside women. Readying to fly out and pick medals at the Commonwealth Games, Dutee’s dreams of international glory were rudely dashed.
The verdict was that Chand had hyperandrogenism — her body naturally produced more of the hormone testosterone than the guidelines laid down by athletics’ international body (IAAF) permitted for female athletes. On Monday, though, the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) determined that there was no proof of any advantage of naturally high levels of testosterone in women. It suspended the IAAF’s hyperandrogenism policy for two years, pending the collection of scientific evidence to prove otherwise. Dutee can run and compete once again.
Ever since women were permitted to compete in sporting events a little over a century ago, there have been fears that men would masquerade as females and compete in their category. To avoid this, officials followed the humiliating practice of asking female athletes to shed their clothes. This was followed by checking cheek swabs for chromosomes. The methodology changed once again in 2011, when the hyperandrogenism policy was introduced, triggered by the dominance of Caster Semenya’s 800m win at the 2009 World Championships. Now the CAS verdict has further blurred what was long perceived, misguidedly, to be a distinct line between the sexes. Sex in humans is not simply binary, the court said. Nature is not neat, and there is no single determinant of sex. However, the court has admitted that as long as there continue to be separate categories in sport, it is necessary for the IAAF to create a basis for the division of athletes into male and female. Yet, because the distinction between men and women isn’t a black and white issue, any line that is drawn will likely be an arbitrary one.