The Women’s Sports Foundation has released a position statement this week on the Participation of Intersex Athletes in Women’s Sports. The primary authors of the position paper, Nancy Hogshead-Makar and Erin Buzuvis, are to be commended for articulating a position that is clear, reasoned and based on the science of what we know about intersex conditions and competitive equity rather than the hysteria, sexism and prejudice that too often guide discussions about the participation of intersex athletes.
The WSF position statement stands in stark contrast to the “improved” policy recently announced by the IOC and IAAF. These organizations have struggled to correct the shameful treatment of South African runner, Caster Semenya, at the 2009 World Championships. Unfortunately the revised policy they have produced requires medical “treatment” of women athletes who have intersex conditions in order for them to be eligible to compete. The IOC and IAAF revision does eliminate the possibility that competitors can challenge an athlete’s sex because of, what they perceive as, masculine appearance or performance. This is a huge step in the right direction, but only a step. Moreover, the policy is inherently sexist because it does not address men’s sports at all. Male competitors who have exceptional athletic performances or who have exceptionally high levels of naturally produced testosterone are not regulated. To the contrary, they are celebrated as stud athletes and champions. Only intersex women who may have higher than typical levels of testosterone are regulated. I wrote more extensively about about the IOC/IAAF policy here and here.
As the WSF position paper clearly states, testosterone levels are only one determinant of athletic performance. In addition, the testosterone levels of non-intersex women athletes (and male athletes) vary widely. To require medical intervention for women athletes with intersex conditions is to pursue a paradoxical goal of competitive balance when achieving a competitive edge is the whole point of trying to win any athletic competition.
The WSF position statement is a sane and humane alternative for sports organizations seeking guidance in formulating their own policies on the participation of intersex athletes. If your school, athletic conference or sport governing organization is contemplating the adoption of such a policy, I highly recommend taking a good look at the WSF position statement.