Why sex determination tests in athletics are flawed

18 July 2014

On 27 June this year, an 18-year-old sprinter was subjected to a test to determine the level of androgens—masculinising hormones that include testosterone—in her body. On 16 July, the Sports Authority of India announced that they had barred her from competing as a woman. SAI’s press release on the issue stated that “Preliminary investigations indicate that the athlete is not fit for participation in a female event due to female hyperandrogenism.”

But the world over, many fundamental scientific and ethical questions about these sex determination tests remain unanswered. In this extract from ‘Santhi Soundarajan and the Flawed Science of Sex’ in the February 2013 issue of The Caravan’s science supplement, Periscope, Rakesh Kalshian examined the cases of Santhi Soundarajan and other female athletes who were put through similar questionable tests.

In December 2006, Santhi Soundarajan became the first woman athlete to be screened for sex since the abolishing of compulsory testing in 1999. The obvious question is, why was she singled out?

Rakesh Kalshian is a Delhi-based writer on science, environment and development.