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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About Daniel Fincke

Dr. Daniel Fincke  has his PhD in philosophy from Fordham University and spent 11 years teaching in college classrooms. He wrote his dissertation on Ethics and the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche. On Camels With Hammers, the careful philosophy blog he writes for a popular audience, Dan argues for atheism and develops a humanistic ethical theory he calls “Empowerment Ethics”. Dan also teaches affordable, non-matriculated, video-conferencing philosophy classes on ethics, Nietzsche, historical philosophy, and philosophy for atheists that anyone around the world can sign up for. (You can learn more about Dan’s online classes here.) Dan is an APPA  (American Philosophical Practitioners Association) certified philosophical counselor who offers philosophical advice services to help people work through the philosophical aspects of their practical problems or to work out their views on philosophical issues. (You can read examples of Dan’s advice here.) Through his blogging, his online teaching, and his philosophical advice services each, Dan specializes in helping people who have recently left a religious tradition work out their constructive answers to questions of ethics, metaphysics, the meaning of life, etc. as part of their process of radical worldview change.


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