IOC to set up centres for gender disputes
Specialists to handle sex verification cases
LONDON: The International Olympic Committee is recommending the establishment of special medical centres around the world to deal with cases of athletes with ambiguous sexual characteristics.
The IOC also wants rules put into place by sports bodies to determine the eligibility on a “case by case” basis of athletes whose gender is called into question.
The IOC organised a twoday conference with medical specialists in Miami to consider guidelines for handling sex verification cases, an issue that gained global attention last year when South African runner Caster Semenya was ordered to undergo gender tests.
The case of Semenya, who won the women’s 800m at the world championships in Berlin last year, was not dealt with directly in the closed meetings. But it helped focus the need for clarity on the issue of whether an athlete competes as a man or a woman.
“We did not discuss any particular case,” IOC medical commission chairman Arne Ljungqvist said.
“We explored the science of all these matters. We established several important points based on up-to-date science and global expertise. Now we have the scientific basis for going further.”
Among the key conclusions was a proposal to set up health centres where experts would diagnose and treat athletes with what are known as “disorders of sex development”.
“We cannot expect sports in every country around the world to have the necessary expertise,” Ljungqvist said. “That’s not possible, so we recommend strategically located centres where cases could be referred if necessary. It’s for the experts to decide what to do with each individual case.”
The Miami symposium – attended by about 15 scientists, medical experts and sports federation doctors – took place amid continuing international scrutiny on Semenya, who was 18 when she won the 800 gold at the championships in Berlin. Her dramatic improvement in times and muscular build led the International Association of Athletics Federations to order gender tests.
The IAAF is still reviewing the test results to determine Semenya’s future. The IAAF has refused to confirm or deny Australian media reports that the tests indicate Semenya has both male and female sex organs.
Officials from the IAAF and world football governing body FIFA attended the Miami conference to explain their policies and experiences on gender issues, Ljungqvist said.
While the Semenya controversy has continued for months, Ljungqvist said the experts in Miami emphasised that all cases should be dealt with quickly.
“It is very important to as rapidly as possible establish a diagnosis once you have come across a suspicious case,” he said.
“It’s not something that should be allowed to drag on. If the sport comes across such a case you have to deal with it in an expeditious manner.”
Sports federations should have rules to determine an athlete’s eligibility to compete during the gender diagnosis and treatment periods, Ljungqvist said.
“There cannot be a general rule,” he said. “The rule needs to allow for a case-by-case evaluation. Each case is unique. They are not many. They are all individual.”
The delegates also cited the potential benefit of “pre-participation health examinations” for aspiring athletes. Ljungqvist said some countries, including Italy, require athletes to take medical checks before they are ruled eligible for competition.
“We emphasised that these exams could be a very important and useful tool for identifying athletes with these disorders,” he said.
The IOC will now consult with lawyers and its own athletes’ commission to help establish specific guidelines.
“We have achieved the first step successfully,” Ljungqvist said. “There needs to be some legal input. This may require further discussions. Certainly the IOC will take some initiatives to pursue this further.”
The IOC used to carry out mandatory gender exams at the Olympics, but they were dropped in 1999 because the screening process – chromosome testing – was deemed unscientific and unethical.
The IOC now has a special medical panel on site at the games that can intervene if necessary. – Sapa-AP
CONTROVERSIAL: Caster Semenya who won the 800m gold in August.