Dutee Chand, the 100-meter champion in the 18-and-under category in India, has hyperandrogenism, a condition that makes her body naturally produce levels of testosterone so high that she registers in the range of male athletes. As a result, the Indian sports authority has banned her from competition unless she reduces her level of testosterone by taking hormone inhibiting drugs or having surgery. In a landmark move, Chand is refusing to do so and challenging the ban. She says the rule is unethical and that since she was born this way, her condition should not be held against her.
Supporters of the ban say that while it might be an imperfect indicator, testosterone is what most easily distinguishes between the male and female sex. Critics of the ban say that the situation of “male” and “female” athletes, as defined by hormones, is inadequate and that such physiological conditions need to be redefined. They argue that athletic prowess is also influenced by weight, height, kinetics, socio-economic history, diet, and many other factors. This is not the first time sex has come into play in athletics. Most recently in 2009, there was the case of South African runner Caster Semanya, who was first barred, then allowed to compete after gender testing. Seven out of a thousand elite track and field athletes have hyperandrogenism – much more common than the general population of women.
Should female athletes with hyperandrogenism be forced to lower their levels of natural testosterone in order to compete with women? Would it be fair to other women sprinters with far lower testosterone if she were allowed to run? Is hyperandrogenism fundamentally different than having another natural advantage, such as extreme height?
Katrina Karkazis, Sr. Research scholar in bioethics at Stanford
Eric Vilain, M.D., Ph.D., co-director at UCLA’s Institute for Society and Genetics