Opinion

Maria José Martínez-Patiño

A year from now, the Olympic games will be held in Tokyo, Japan. (To the left: the new Olympic games emblem.) What are we to expect from them? A feast for the athletes who will stay at home and watch from afar the best folk in their game; enjoyment for everybody who loves sport.

Also, as each year, Tokyo Olympics will undoubtedly bring all sorts of corruption and cooked deals. Some of those from the previous years that made it public, are listed here: List of Olympic Games scandals and controversies.

One hasn’t made it to the list, but should have been there: the admittance of males in women’s events.

We don’t know for certain if any male athlete has competed at the Olympics in women’s division yet; correct me if I’m not up to date on this. There have been rumours, but I haven’t seen any concrete names. For example, two unnamed Brits had hoped to be at the Rio Olympics 2016. Allegedly, they didn’t enter in the end due to fear “of being exposed and ridiculed”. Both had already represented Britain at a European championship sporting events. One of them was a potential Olympic medal-winner (cf. Transgender British athletes born male set to make Olympic history by competing in the games as women).

We know for certain, though, that it’s the International Olympic Committee’s guidelines that facilitate it, and we know that the IOC guidelines are pretty much universally adopted by regional and national sport bodies, worldwide. One of the rare exceptions being USA Powerlifting, for which this organisation deserves standing ovations. International Powerlifting Federation (IPF) doesn’t follow this fair suit, but instead goes by the IOC guidelines; that’s why we see Laurel Hubbard taking spots and medals from women.

If the above Wiki entry were amended by notifying the readers about this blatant corruption, the question remains which year should be registered as the landmark: 2003, 2015 …?

In 2003, the Stockholm Consensus on Sex Reassignment in Sport made it possible for men to compete as women, provided they had undergone “sex reassignment” surgery, had been receiving hormone therapy for at least two years and had arranged for their fictitious gender identity being legally recognised.

In 2015, the Consensus was changed: genital surgery was no longer required, instead of prior legal status requirement a declaration of gender (binding for four years) sufficed, and the testosterone level in serum had to be below 10 nmol/L for 12 months prior to the first competition of a man declaring himself a woman.

More likely, though, the shift should be moved back to the 1990s when the Barr body test was discarded.

Barr body test (named after Canadian physician and medical researcher Murray Llewellyn Barr) is an examination of sex at the chromosomal level. It was instituted in the 1970s in response to the professional tennis career of Renée Richards (formerly Richard Raskind, ref. https://www.facebook.com/transingsport/photos/a.627064504306356/927861184226685/) who began competing in women’s tennis after undergoing a “gender reassignment” surgery in 1975. Richards refused to take the Barr test and, after being excluded from the US Open and Wimbledon, filed a discrimination lawsuit against the US Tennis Association.

The Barr body test was also challenged by the XY DSD athletes, the most relevant name in this regard is Spanish hurdler Maria José Patiño, who was disqualified in the 1985 World University Games held in Japan due to failing the Barr test. Patiño had passed her/their first sex test at the 1983 World Athletics Championships in Helsinki, but had to repeat the test in Japan in 1985 after forgetting the certificate at home. This second test produced a suspicious result and a more sophisticated karyotype analysis was performed. Two months later, the results of the karyotype analysis revealed that Patiño’s sex chromosome constitution was XY. In Patiño’s case, the reason for the confusion was complete androgen insensitivity syndrome (CAIS): despite being XY DSD and thus biologically male (though registered as a female in legal documentation) Patiño’s body can’t at all make use of the androgens produced by her/their body.

Let’s be clear here: this is not the same condition as Caster Semenya’s. Although Semenya also has androgen insensitivity (to some extent) syndrome (that is the most likely, albeit not official diagnosis, as it’s been kept from the public due to privacy concerns), following the clues from the latest IAAF regulations for XY DSD athletes on their eligibility in women’s events, one is left with no doubt that Semenya’s body benefits from androgens that it naturally produces. That means that Semenya has partial androgen insensitivity syndrome (PAIS). (IAAF explicitly separates CAIS from PAIS: the former may compete without restrictions in women’s, whereas the latter are admitted in the women’s division, should they chose to obid by certain restrictions.)

If you want to see the obvious difference between the two conditions, compare Maria Patiño (in the pic to the right) with Semenya: it’s as clear as day that Semenya went through male puberty and Patiño had not.

Back to the Barr body test. Patiño advocated against compulsory chromosome testing and campaigned for changes in policies regarding XY DSD athletes – at the time called “women with congenital differences”. (Later, the IOC started using the phrase “women with hyperandrogenism” which is still in use today, despite being highly misleading since it leads people to thinking it concerns XX individuals who have high testosterone levels, and not the carriers of the Y chromosome. Again, it’s the IAAF who is trying to introduce the nomenclature and procedures that align with biological reality, not ideology.) Patiño’s case ultimately triggered the end of this type of testing.

The thing with the Barr body test is that it gives away XY DSD athletes, and as long as the participation of the likes of Semenya in women’s events is not questioned, so long the arguments and pushback against the Barr body test will subsist. IAAF is the first organisation that showed honest desire to accommodate both, females and XY DSD athletes – specifically making it clear that there should be no restriction for the CAIS individuals since they haven’t benefited from male puberty (unlike those with PAIS and some other XY DSD diagnoses).

It would thus appear that the best route to the integrity of women’s sport leads to re-introduction of the Barr body test, or its alternative, perhaps one that doesn’t determine the Y chromosome, but detects the Y-linked SRY gene, i.e. sex-determining region of the Y chromosome.

The Barr body test was replaced by the use of polymerase chain reaction for the SRY gene for the Winter Olympic Games in Albertville, France in 1992. But once again there was a “problem” with AIS individuals. As I said though: if sport bodies adopt the new IAAF regulations for XY DSD athletes, then the relevant AIS condition, namely the complete insensitivity to androgens, is exempt from restrictions because people with CAIS don’t go through male development. And the justice is served.

To conclude:
One hopes that the IOC would reconsider its unscientific approach to fairness in sport and would give women due credit in their own, women’s sport. Although it’s not very likely, unfortunately, that the IOC would be willing to make such a bold move only a year away from the Olympic games in Tokyo.

A woman can hope, though. And women should campaign for just resolution instead of coming forward with “diverse and intelligent” quasi-solutions based on infinitesimally fractured identities, quasi-solutions, which cannot result in anything but total disintegration of women’s sport.

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2 COMMENTS

  1. Semenya is a man. He was born with XY chromosome. Why can’t people be honest for a change and quit peddling the “intersex” nonsense. If he has DSD it is completely irrelevant to the fact he is XY, a male, and has no right to be in women’s events.

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