On the natural composition of an athlete

What is fair? In July of 2009, South African Caster Semenya ran her life’s best 800-meter race, for which she became a gold-medalist at the IAAF World Championship in Berlin. Her accomplishment was undermined when the International Association of Athletics Federation (IAAF) launched a sex verification investigation. The IAAF developed these investigations with the goal of ensuring fair competition by the elimination of what they considered unnatural advantage. Athletes (most often female competitors) can be subjected to physical examination and genetic and hormonal testing to verify their eligibility to compete as a certain sex. (Wonkam et al 546) A closer examination reveals that this process also maintains the notion that men’s athletic ability, as measured by physical strength and speed, surpasses that of women.

This idea is also a haunting underpinning of athletic competition. Athletes must choose whether to compete in a competition of either men or women. These choices limit athletes to a dichotomy that our class readings have shown to be invalid, due to the diversity of internal and external expressions of gender. The athletic world takes the traditional dichotomy of sex a step further by implementing performance expectations that places male achievement over female ability. In the case where female ability challenges male achievement, the female athlete is suspected of having an unfair advantage that stems from heightened levels of hormones associated with the male genotype. (Dworkin and Cooky 22) Can a woman not achieve athletic accomplishment without the biological make-up of a man? Are male athletes questioned about possessing too many masculine traits? Are women truly competing in a fair arena if they are expected to fall short? If we wish to allow athletes to display their natural ability, they should not be penalized for the natural biological variance amongst humans, both male and female.



Dworkin, Shari L., and Cheryl Cooky. “Sport, Sex Segregation, and Sex Testing: Critical Refelctions on This Unjust Marriage.” The American Journal of Bioethics 12:7 (July 2012): 21-2.

Wonkam, Ambroise, Fieggen, Karen, and Ramesar, Raj. “Beyond the Caster Semenya Controversy: The Case of the Use of Genetics for Gender Testing in Sport.” Journal of Genetic Counseling 19:6 (December 2010): 545-8.

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