When is a woman too much of a man to be a female athlete?

So, the IOC just recommended gender-testing centers to determine eligibility when an athlete exhibits sexually ambiguous characteristics. Caster Semenya, the woman who won the 800 meters at the world championships this past summer, seems to have spurred the scrutiny with her masculine build, low voice, and hint of an Adam’s apple. Excruciatingly embarrassing for her to be called out in such a public manner, however, I’ll argue that you have to be fair to all athletes.

Men and women compete in separate categories in most sports because of the inherent inequity in speed and strength. If a tad more testosterone didn’t boost performance, we wouldn’t be having debates about steroid usage, right? Unlike cheating in sports though, Caster Semenya just is who she is and wasn’t trying to put anything over on anyone else. In November, the I.A.A.F. ruled (after gender-testing results rumored to show Semenya as a hermaphrodite) that Semenya would keep her world title and prize money. However, it has not ruled whether or not she would be allowed to continue competing as a woman. The question becomes–where do you draw the line? If a woman’s natural testosterone levels are higher than other women (on par perhaps with a man’s), should she be allowed to compete against women? What if she has ambiguous sex organs? And how do you single out an athlete for testing without crushing her spirit and reputation?

The answer seems to be that the IOC cannot consider this matter on a case-by-case basis. They must return to standardized gender-testing for all athletes (as they did a decade ago) or risk demoralizing and humiliating individuals. And, as inane as it sounds, the IOC must determine the criteria it will use to decide when a woman is too much of a man to be a female athlete.

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