Gender Testing For Female Olympians

Some female athletes at the Beijing Olympics will undergo controversial gender tests to ensure that they are genetically women.

Organizers of the Beijing Olympics have set up a sex-determination laboratory to evaluate “suspect” female athletes, the official Chinese news agency Xinhua reported Sunday. The lab is similar to ones set up at previous Olympics in Sydney and Athens, and will draw on the resources of the Peking Union Medical College Hospital to evaluate an athlete’s external appearance, hormones and genes.

Some medical ethicists have said the practice is too intrusive. “Real people are going to be hurt by this,” said Alice Dreger, an associate professor in medical humanities and bioethics at Northwestern University. Real Olympic athletes who have spent their whole life waiting for this moment.”

Although only athletes whose gender has been questioned will be tested in Beijing, the lab is a relic of an earlier Olympic era, when every female athlete was required to submit to a sex-verification test before competing in the Games. The tests emerged in the 1960s, when the Soviet Union and other Communist countries were suspected of entering male athletes in women’s events to gain an edge. At first, women were asked to parade nude before a panel of doctors to verify their sex. At the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City, officials switched to a chromosomal test.

Some scientists are blasting the testing as unfair, saying that gender is not always a “cut and dried” issue. Some people who appear physically female have a Y chromosome while some people who look like men may not. Only one case of deliberate gender cheating has even been proven in Olympic competition – a 1936 German high-jumper who 20 years later revealed that the Nazis had forced him to compete as a woman.