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A New Ruling Allows Female Athletes with High Testosterone Levels to Compete

Indian sprinter Dutee Chand was cleared to compete, despite her hyperandrogenism.
Photo via Wikimedia Commons

Photo via Wikimedia Commons

The Court of Arbitration for Sport ruled today that Dutee Chand, a 19-year-old Indian sprinter, could continue to race despite her higher-than-normal levels of testosterone. It's a critical case for female athletes like Chand, who have been subjected to various forms of "gender testing" to verify that they are woman enough to compete.

Chand was a national champion by the time she was 16, when she became the country's 18-and-under champion for the 100-meter race in 2012. But then, in 2014, Chand was banned from competing because of her hyperandrogenism—a high level of naturally-occurring testosterone in women.


Hyperandrogenism can render an athlete ineligible if her testosterone levels are too high; by the International Association of Athletics Federations' standards, it's 10 nanomoles of testosterone per liter. That's because higher testosterone levels are believed to give female competitors an unfair advantage, the same way taking steroids would. The problem is that hyperandrogenism occurs naturally, sometimes from conditions like polycystic ovarian symdrome, which skews the balance of hormones in women and affects as many as one in ten women.

Issues like this have spurred the debate over sex hormones in athletics, which revolve around the idea of creating clear boundaries between male athletes and female athletes. Olympic runner Caster Semenya was famously subjected to "gender testing" in 2009, when it was discovered that she had both male and female sex organs (the IAAF later cleared her to compete, after she took hormone supplements to "normalize" her androgen levels). At the 2012 London Olympics, four women were forced to have their internal testes removed in order to compete (they were genetically female, but had male sex organs).

But Chand wasn't interested in taking hormonal supplements or surgically altering her body, so she petitioned her disqualification.

After today's ruling, the New York Times reported that the panel "was unable to conclude that hyperandrogenic female athletes may benefit from such a significant performance advantage that it is necessary to exclude them from competing in the female category." The court gave the International Association of Athletics Federations two years to come up with persuasive evidence that hyerandrogenism does affect athletic performance, and if they can't, then the ruling will stand.

For Chand, and other female athletes like her, this is a major win. "I was humiliated for something that I can't be blamed for," said Chand, in a statement released today. "I am glad that no other female athlete will have to face what I have faced, thanks to this verdict."

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