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Thesis Format

Integrated Article


Doctor of Philosophy




Dr. Angela Schneider


In the 1960s, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) sanctioned testing to verify the sex of elite female athletes. Sex tests, as they were called, did not extend to male athletes, and they have tended to rely on appearance and performance alone. Now measuring testosterone levels, the Eligibility Regulations for the Female Classification scrutinizes female athletes far more than male athletes. This dissertation contributes to the sex testing literature by investigating three under-explored avenues: the history of the sex testing sports medical literature, a medical discourse analysis of IOC documents based on the implementation of sex testing, and a critical feminist analysis of the 2019 hearing of runner Mokgadi Caster Semenya.

Data collection comes from a range of sources, including the IOC’s archives, medical journals, IOC Medical Committee correspondence from 1950-1999, current regulations for hyperandrogenism in the IAAF, and the Court of Arbitration of Sport (CAS) hearing Mokgadi Caster Semenya & ASA v IAAF (2019). This dissertation introduces a discourse called ‘female testing,’ highlighting the IOC’s continued history of testing only female athletes for sex. This critical feminist analysis questions the role of the IOC and the IOC medical commission’s science in determining sex-based testing. This dissertation recommends more critical oversight into the relationship between sport science and ethics, and a more pragmatic approach to addressing female testing. Female tests in sport go far beyond what ordinary people are familiar with regarding their biological makeup. The tests currently in place leave some athletes in the women’s category at a disadvantage, including women, women of colour, trans folks, queer-identifying folks, and women from non-Western nations.

Summary for Lay Audience

Since 1967, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has sanctioned testing females to protect the female category in sport. Initially a genetic test called ‘sex testing,’ these regulations attempted to monitor ‘fair play’ in the female category by ensuring that males do not attempt to participate in the female category and gain an unfair physiological advantage. Testing helped to discern several sex types in addition to the standard male/female binary. Sex types may present with aspects of male and female characteristics, referred to as intersex, or individuals with Differences of Sex Development (DSD). Intersex individuals might appear androgynous (containing features of both male and female characteristics), but otherwise, there might not be any indication that an individual was intersex.

By sanctioning the testing of female athletes to make sure that they are female, the IOC and supporting sport governing bodies are sending several messages: i) females require testing or verification for protection against male athlete intruders; ii) males absolutely have a significant sporting advantage over females; iii) only male and female categories should exist in sport; and iv) medical science is the most appropriate way to ensure regulatory compliance for gender categories in sport. Some scholars support sex tests to protect ‘true’ females participating in the female category. Others believe that testing females is harmful since the tests maintain the gender binary. Both sides agree that the tests are harmful to those who are exposed as intersex. This dissertation adds to this discussion by presenting ‘fair play’ as defined through the sports medicine literature, historical archives, the current regulations for sex testing, and pragmatic analysis of a recent court case in the international sport’s court, the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS). This dissertation suggests reconsidering sex testing regulations since society does not regularly track biological makeup. Females can, therefore, only comply with sex testing regulations after being tested.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.