Stop Athletic Association from Strictly Policing Gender for Female Athletes

Target: International Association of Athletics Federations

Goal: Stop rigid gender policing of female athletes.

Olympic officials have been subjecting female athletes who seem masculine to ‘gender policing’ since the 1960s. In recent years, debates about gender and how to classify transgender and intersex athletes has intensified. For example, Caster Semenya, a South African runner, was banned from competition for 11 months while officials investigated her sex to determine if she was qualified to compete with other women, since her perceived masculinity may have offered her unfair advantages. Now, after several psychological, gynecological, and endocrine tests, she has returned to competitions. Those tests caused her to lose one year of her career.

The International Association of Athletes Federations (IAAF) currently has rules that state women can only compete with other women if their testosterone levels do not exceed a male threshold. Since hormone levels naturally vary from person to person, there has been lively debate about how to define a male testosterone level in the first place.

To contrast, male athletes are not tested for hormone levels, chromosomes, DNA, etc in order to determine their sex. If a man has an unusually high testosterone level, he can still compete with other men. Since the burden of this extensive testing has a disparate impact on women, it fits the definition of discrimination. Female athletes should not have to put their careers on hold for a battery of tests to authenticate their gender. Hormones and muscles are not the only major factors of successful performance—training, knowledge of the sport, a positive attitude, and a strong support network are just as crucial.

Of course competitions must be regulated, but the process must be streamlined and equalized. As it stands, the IAAF is essentially saying that if you are too good of an athlete, you must be manly. This equates skill and strength with masculinity, which perpetuates outdated stereotypes about women. The length of time involved in the testing procedures also has the potential to damage female athletes’ careers.

Sign the petition below to ask the IAAF to implement simpler tests over a shorter period of time for all men and women athletes, or advocate athletic divisions on the basis of performance rather than gender.


Dear International Association of Athletics Federations,

The tests masculine-looking female athletes are subjected to in order to determine their gender is discriminatory. It disparately affects women, since no men are tested in similar ways for similar reasons, and it can damage female athletes’ careers by preventing them from competing for the lengthy amount of time testing requires. Furthermore, it promotes gender stereotypes—skill and strength are associated with men, not with women.

Of course regulation is always going to be part of athletic competitions, but the current procedures regulating gender are unsuitable. Please test all female and male competitors for shorter periods of time with less invasive tests instead of placing all scrutiny on women.

Or, advocate the revision of competition divisions so that they are organized by skill and performance level rather than gender. This would actually be much more fair, given that hormones, musculature, stamina, and skill vary widely from athlete to athlete, regardless of gender.


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  1. Emsley Carr says:

    Great idea for the petition!

    To be totally fair it makes equal sense then to remove all gender classifications and have one set of mixed competitions in athletics. Slight draw back being that in mixed competition no woman would get to final or win another medal in our lifetimes!

    Not a great argument to pursue.

  2. Caitlin Donnelly Caitlin Donnelly says:

    Good point, Emsley. I should have expanded that point. To clarify, the petition asks for “the revision of competition divisions so that they are organized by skill and performance level rather than gender.”

    This does mean mixed gender competitions, but not with everybody just lumped into the same category. In that case, you’re right. Men would usually have the advantage. Instead, to organize divisions by skill and performance level means to do a pre-competition round and group athletes into subdivisions based on how well they did, not based on gender. That way, athletes would compete with others close to their level based on performance, not the assumption that women probably compete at similar levels and men probably compete at similar levels.

    Does that make sense?

    • Emsley Carr says:

      Its great in principal and would work at a non competitive social sports club level but it wouldn’t work in practise at the elite end of athletics or any other professional sport.

      Public pay to watch and company’s pay to sponsor elite sport on the basis of seeing the “fastest, highest, strongest” compete.

      As such, the elite end of the competition will remain a male preserve. If athletics is a mixed competition, the Olympic champion or the World champion and all the finalists will still be men.

      On the basis of current physiological development of women’s sport, due to the better body weight and endurance ratio, a female marathon runner is due to beat a man in about 100 years time. But that is the lone event.

      So after a century of fighting to get women’s sport equal notice, participation and prize money, if we make the sport mixed it will consign women to oblivion in terms of elite sport.

  3. Caitlin Donnelly Caitlin Donnelly says:

    Again, good point. That trend is already in place in some sense. Unfortunately, women’s divisions are not paid nearly as much attention as men’s. If put in mixed competitions, though, I’m not sure all men would always be better than all women. Then again, it is impossible for either of us to know the future.

    In any case, there are two options laid out in this particular petition–don’t test so invasively for such a long period of time, or organize divisions differently. What the IAAF does with this petition is up to them. I would encourage you to write to the IAAF to express your opinion if it does not align with this one.

    • Emsley Carr says:

      Just a couple of factual points as I have been in this sport all my life and it is extremely dear to me:

      >>Unfortunately, women’s divisions are not paid nearly as much attention as men’s<>If put in mixed competitions, though, I’m not sure all men would always be better than all women.<<

      – Athletics is a strength related sport, and no woman would rank in the top-500 of any event in the world if competition was mixed. That is statistical fact. If you doubt this then I ask you to consult the Association of Track and Field Statisticians.

      Women and men have equal skill and intelligence. This can be seen in a sport like horse riding where the horse produces most of the power)and men and women onboard compete equally.

      But you cannot divorce physical power from athletics. It is at the core of the sport.

      Therefore while I do not have the knowledge to comment about other power related sports, I can guarantee that what you are propose will lead to the dissappearance of women from elite athletics, and it would put back the struggle for equality in sport by at least a century.

      • Emsley Carr says:

        Not sure what happended when that transfered to the site as my comment about prize money in-between your two quotes was missing…

        >>Unfortunately, women’s divisions are not paid nearly as much attention as men’s<<

        – Athletics has had equal prize money in all its competitions for men and women from the start of the professional era in the early 1980s (before that no one was paid)

  4. Gen Lovyet Agustsson says:

    abolish gender binary in sports now!

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