Should Olympic Sex-Testing Be Banned?

By Amir Khan on July 9, 2012 10:15 AM EDT

Olympics
Sex texting at the 2012 summer Olympics should be banned, researchers from King's College London said on Monday (Photo: Creative Commons)

Sex texting at the 2012 summer Olympics should be banned, researchers from King's College London said on Monday. The testing is unfair and singles out women who may not meet the "traditional" notions of femininity, researchers said in a new study, published in the American Journal of Bioethics.

The International Association of Athletics Federation (IAAF) and the International Olympics Committee (IOC) test women for high levels of naturally occurring testosterone, called hyperandrogenism, which the organizations say gives the athletes an unfair advantage. But researchers said such assumptions are "unfair" and based off of faulty science.

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"Even if it were proved - and it is not, as we show in the report - that there is an athletic advantage derived from higher levels of endogenous testosterone, it would not be an unfair one," Dr Silvia Camporesi, study author and researcher at King's College London, said in a statement. "Elite athletes already display many types of biological and genetic advantages, why single out testosterone? Hyperandrogenism is a naturally occurring phenomenon and therefore no different to any other exceptional biological variation in the human body."

Runners and cyclists often have rare mutations that give them the ability to better store and utilize oxygen and combat fatigue, according to the study. Basketball players often have a hormonal condition that results in larger hands and feet, and Michael Phelps, the record-breaking Olympic swimmer, has Marfan's Syndrome - a rare genetic mutation that results in unusually long limbs and flexible joints, researchers said.

Singling out women for a genetic condition is unfair, researchers said. In addition, Dr. Camporesi said "Surprising as it may be, the link between athleticism and androgens in general, or testosterone in particular, has not been proven."

 Sex-testing is being reintroduced for the 2012 summer Olympics after Caster Semenya's sex was called into question in 2009  because of her spectacular win and powerful physique, leading to questions around the legitimacy of her competing as a female. But researchers said basing someone's gender off of their testosterone is bad science.

"There is no one indicator in the body to specify that a person is male or female. In particular, despite a general framework around the levels of testosterone in men and women, there are no hard and fast numerical guidelines," she said. "The new policies introduced by the IAAF and the IOC try to get around the complexity of what determines athletic excellence by singling out testosterone levels as the most important aspect of athletic advantage. But athletic advantage is the product of a complex entanglement of biological and material factors and cannot be reduced to testosterone levels."

While officials say the policy is intended to create fairness across sports, researchers said it actually does the exact opposite.

"Not only do the new policies fail to achieve the fairness they claim to be constructed on, but they end up achieving quite the opposite," Dr. Camporesi said,  "and this is why they should be withdrawn."

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