The Fluidity of Gender and Implications for the Biology of Inclusion for Transgender and Intersex Athletes

Joanna Harper, Giscard Lima, Alexander Kolliari-Turner, Fernanda Rossell Malinsky, Guan Wang, Maria Jose Martinez-Patino, Siddhartha S. Angadi, Theodora Papadopoulou, Fabio Pigozzi, Leighton Seal, James Barrett, Yannis P. Pitsiladis*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articlepeer-review

15 Citations (Scopus)


One of the most contentious issues in modern day sport arises when sports are divided into male and female categories. The International Association of Athletics Federations' (IAAF) previous policy regulating intersex athletes was suspended by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), resulting in a new policy. The challenge faced by the governing body of athletics is to formulate a policy that upholds both international law and the Olympic charter that stipulates athletes compete without discrimination of any kind. Implementation of the policy has been delayed until after a verdict, expected no later than March 26, 2019, in the Semenya versus IAAF trial in theCourt ofArbitration for Sport. If the policy is enacted, it will restrict athletes from competing in the female athletics category with specific differences of sex development (DSD) in races from 400mup to themile in international level competitions unless they lower their natural testosterone (T) levels below 5 nmolIL -1 . To thoroughly assess this new IAAF policy, one needs to appreciate its legal, sociological, and scientific underpinnings but also the history of previous policies attempting to define precisely how athletes should be divided into male and female categories. We previously proposed a systemto deal with gender variant athletes that relied on a determination of an ''athlete/athletic gender.'' The concept of ''athlete gender''was presented tomultiple audiences, and the resulting survey is included. A large majority of participants (71% of 153) who answered the survey agreed with the idea of an athlete gender. This position also was accompanied by the request for more studies (20% of those who agreed) and concern over the process of hormonemonitoring (32%of thosewho agreed) to avoid dopingmisuse. The primary argument of those participating in the survey that disagreed with the position (23% of 153) was that biological differences between males and females remained even after the transition (47% of opposing comments). Mixed gender/sex competitions provide unique opportunities for athletes to compete against one another outside of the traditionalmale/ female divide and pave the way for a more flexible approach for dealing with gender variant athletes.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)467-472
Number of pages6
JournalCurrent Sports Medicine Reports
Issue number12
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2018

Scopus Subject Areas

  • Orthopedics and Sports Medicine
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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