What Makes A “Woman” Athlete?

The International Olympic Committee struggles with the question:

The International Olympic Committee has a new rule this year for deciding who gets to compete as a woman. The IOC’s hope is to avoid a spectacle like the one that followed South African runner Caster Semenya’s victory in the women’s 800 meters at the 2009 World Championships. Semenya’s sex became a question mark amid speculation about her masculine-looking physique. She wasn’t allowed to compete for almost a year, and then she was reinstated without a clear explanation. Nobody wants to repeat that. The question, though, is whether the science is clear enough to justify the Olympics’ latest approach—and the answer is probably no.

Here’s the IOC’s plan: Women who test in the male range for testosterone, and whose bodies respond to the hormone, may not be eligible to compete as females. “May not,” because these women may also be allowed to lower their testosterone levels medically, as some say Semenya is now doing, though the IOC hasn’t confirmed that. The committee does not specify what testosterone level is disqualifying, in part because individuals’ measures can fluctuate. “We’ll leave those decisions with the experts,” Arne Ljungqvist, the chairman of the IOC’s medical commission, told the New York Times.

Read more about the numerous complexities that go into determining who should qualify as a woman athlete and why.

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