Name: Georgia Gascoigne
Student Number: 8006199
Tutor: Colleen Niland

Cultural Artefact

BBC YouTube Video (2009)
This cultural artefact represents the controversy surrounding elite female athletes from Caster Semenya mother’s point of view, instead of the media’s view on the issue. The video consists of an interviewer from the BBC talking to Caster Semenya’s mother. The BBC interviewer is forcefully asking questions to verify with the mother Caster Semenya’s 'real' gender. The mother without hesitation knows that Caster Semenya is a female by stating, “Caster is a girl, wherever you go, on her birth certificate says Caster is a girl.” This point of view portrays how Caster’s Mother verifies her daughters gender. Is this how gender should be verified throughout all of society?

Public Health Issue
Gender is known as “the state of being male or female” (Oxford Dictionary, 2012). But is there a clear way to define what is female and what a female isn’t?

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) and International Association of Athletics Federation (IAAF) have seemed to draw a definite line between what is male, and what is female.
“Gender verification policies in elite sports are meant to distinguish competitors on the basis of sex-linked biology” (Wilson, 2000), however, in saying this the IOC have purely basing gender verification on whether a women has high levels of androgen, more commonly known as testosterone.

In the case of Caster Semenya it was not the IAAF or the IOC who said she needed to be gender tested, it was her competitors and the media that sparked this attention. Comments such as, “a breathtakingly butch appearance” (Levy, 2009) and “these kinds of people should not run with us… For me, she is not a woman. She is a man” (Adams, 2009,) was what led the IAAF and IOC to perform gender testing on Semenya. The committees then told her she had to undergo medical treatment if she ever wanted to compete again.

Does this create a fair advantage to Semenya? Is this discriminating against these female athletes?

This is a cruel injustice. This is the controversy surrounding female athletes in sport.

Literature Review
For almost 27 years the IOC have conducted laboratory-based gender testing in the Olympic Games. Throughout this time there has been a great debate over whether gender verification should or shouldn’t be allowed. The debates revolve around both social and scientific aspects associated with the way gender is verified in elite sport. Out of the eight journal articles found, all approached gender verification differently, yet all disagree with the current and past procedures that are/were put in place.

Joe Leigh Simpson from the American Medical Association (2000) stated, “The goal of gender verification is to ensure that female athletes do not unwittingly compete against men. Given that men presumably would have an unfair competitive advantage on the basis of speed and muscle mass, such a policy seems endorsable of the grounds of fairness.” He then went onto explain that these tests are also difficult, expensive and potentially inaccurate.

Laura Hercher from the National Society of Genetic Counsellors studied gender verification used prior to this year. Throughout her studies she explained that the reason gender verification became a policy at the Olympic Games was to prevent male impostors from participating in female competitions. However, with modern day doping rules, it has made hiding ones gender virtually impossible. In the thirty years of compulsory testing, not a single man has ever been caught cheating as a woman. Instead, testing has identified intersex individuals and women with conditions like congenital adrenal hyperplasia (CAH), Androgen insensitivity (AIS) or Turner Syndrome, many of which have no advantage on their ability to compete (Hercher, 2005).

A process designed to catch imposters has turned out to be a clumsy model of detecting disorders of sexual development (DSD’s).

Many researchers, like Hercher, have taken the path of discovering the science, genetics and recently the hormones involved with gender verification in sport.

Ruth Wood and Steven Stanton (2011) researched the science behind testosterone in sport. Within their research they focused on women with disorders of sexual development (DSD).
They discussed that women with DSD may convey a competitive advantage, although, the understanding of DSD has expanded in recent years and now women with DSD do not have an athletic advantage over other female competitors.

DSD also includes alterations of sex chromosomes as well as defects in the production, metabolism or binding capacity of sex hormones. Athletes, such as Caster Semenya, have been blocked from competition after testing, due to DSD.

Turner’s Syndrome is where individuals only have one sex chromosome, and sometimes may have three or four (Klinefelter’s Syndrome). This results from non-disjunction of sex chromosomes during meiosis in the development of spermatozoan or oocyte (Wood & Stanton, 2011). Typically these individuals with either of these chromosome disorders present higher levels of androgen, which is not affecting their ability to play sport. Nonetheless the IOC and IAAF policy does not allow women with Turners syndrome to compete (Wood & Stanton, 2011).

Researchers Myron Genel and Arne Ljungqvist wrote an article in The Lancet explaining the consequences of gender verification. They explained that under the official guidelines from the IAAF and the IOC only some female athletes must undergo gender verification. This policy replaced the older system of compulsory verification as it was criticised as expensive, ineffective and degrading (Genel & Ljungqvist, 2005). These new guidelines remained uncontroversial until 2009 when 18-year old Caster Semenya won the 800 metres at the Berlin World Championships. Due to her rapid improvement by 9 seconds and masculine appearance, Semenya provoked other competitors, which resulted in massive media attention worldwide. Semenya was then banned from competing for 3 years.

This year the IOC and IAAF generated a new set of guidelines on gender verification. These guidelines state, “A female recognised in law should be eligible to compete in female competitions provided that she has androgen (testosterone) levels below the male range” (Karkazia, Jordan-Young, Davis, Camporesi, 2012). It also states, “Although rare, some women develop male-like body characteristics due to an overproduction of male sex hormones, so-called “androgens.” The androgenic effects on the human body explain why men perform better than women in most sports and are, in fact, the very reason for the distinction between male and female competition in most sports. Consequently, women with hyperandrogenism (high levels of androgen) generally perform better in sport than other women” (Karkazia et al., 2012).
Hercher and many other researchers disagree with the statement made by the IOC. Hercher stated, “Taking an excess of testosterone is cheating. Producing an excess of testosterone is a genetic advantage, and there is nothing inherently wrong with that.”
Other researchers then supported Hercher by stating “Testosterone is not the master molecule of athleticism. As counterintuitive as it might seem, there is no evidence that successful athletes have higher testosterone than less successful ones” (Karkazia et al., 2012).

It was also noted by Boron and Boulpaep in the Medical Physiology textbook that testosterones levels vary widely. In the case of this image testosterone levels vary substantially depending on the person’s age.

Boron, W.F., & Boulpaep, E.L. (2003). Medical Physiology: A Cellular and Molecular Approach. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders.

Boron and Boupaep also stated that testosterone levels also vary due to factors such as time of day, social status and most particularly one’s history of athletic training.

As stated previously, Caster Semenya was an 18-year old athlete who sparked controversy when she improved her 800m race time by 9 seconds from 2008 to 2009. Initial suspicions focused on the possibility that Semenya was using performance-enhancing drugs. Urine tests after the race cleared Semenya from being a suspect of using drugs. However, her appearance prompted thoughts about Semenya possibly having a DSD. After much medical treatment Semenya was able to resume competitive athletics.

A response from a reader of the U.K newspaper, The Daily Mail wrote in response to this controversy, “It’s a shame we can’t give her the same credit we gave to Usain Bolt, who also exploded onto the track and knocked seconds off all the records! Should we be testing him to make sure he is human???” (Hercher, 2010)

It seems that gender verification is more of a selective process now than a routine check. As demonstrated by an Indian runner who was stripped of her silver medal in the women’s 800m at the 2006 Asian Games following gender verification, yet previously was cleared for competition at the Asian Championships in 2005 (Wood & Stanton, 2011).

The IAAF and the IOC have outlined several principles, which their policies are based on. Both policies were constructed based on the respect and fairness of the competition in female athletes (Karkazia et al., 2012). Achieving this ‘fairness’, athletes must be placed into a male or female category for athletic competitions. Current science has suggested that hyperandrogenism is an advantage. However according to Katrina Karkazia hyperandrogenism is so complex that testosterone levels alone is a useless indicator of any competitor advantage.

Table 1: Key Principles and Facets of the IAAS and IOC Policies (Karkazia et al., 2012)

Eligibility and Compliance
An acknowledgement that females with hyperandrogenism may compete in women’s competition in Athletics
subject to compliance with IAAF Rules and Regulations.
A female with hyperandrogenism who is
recognized as a female in law shall be eligible to compete in women’s competition in athletics provided that
she has androgen levels below the male range (measured by reference to
testosterone levels in serum) or, if she has androgen levels within the male range she also has an androgen resistance that means that she derives no competitive advantage from such levels.
A female athlete who declines, fails or refuses to comply with the eligibility determination process under the regulations shall not be eligible to compete in women’s competition.
A female recognized in law should be eligible to compete in female competitions provided that she has androgen levels below the male range (as shown by the serum concentration of testosterone) or, if within the male range, she has an androgen resistance such that she derives no competitive
advantage from such levels.
If an athlete fails or refuses to comply with any aspect of the eligibility determination process, while that is her right as an individual, she will not be eligible to participate as a competitor in the chosen sport.
The evaluation of complex cases on an anonymous basis through the use of a panel of independent international medical experts in the field.
A pool of international medical experts has been appointed by the IAAF to review cases referred to it under the regulations as an independent expert medical panel and to make recommendations to the IAAF in such cases to decide on the eligibility of female athletes with hyperandrogenism.
A three-level medical process under the regulations shall ensure that all potentially relevant data is made available to the expert medical panel for
the purposes of evaluating an athlete’s eligibility. This medical process may include, where necessary, the expert medical panel referring an athlete with
potential hyperandrogenism for full examination and diagnosis in
accordance with best medical practice at one of the six IAAF-approved specialist reference centers around the world.
An evaluation with respect to eligibility should be made on an anonymous basis by a panel of independent international experts in the field of
hyperandrogenism that would in each case issue a recommendation on eligibility for the sport concerned. In each case, the sport would decide on an athlete’s eligibility taking into consideration the panel’s recommendation. Should an athlete be considered ineligible to compete, she would be notified of the reasons why and informed of the conditions she would be required to meet should
she wish to become eligible again.
A respect for the very essence of the male and female classifications in athletics.
A respect for the fundamental notion of fairness of competition in female athletics.
Rules are needed and . . . these rules should respect the essence of the male/ female classification and also guarantee the fairness and integrity of female competitions for all female athletes.
Fairness (continued)
Competition in athletics will continue to be divided into men’s and women’s competition recognizing that there is a
difference in sporting performance between elite men and women, that is predominantly due to higher levels of androgenic hormones in men.
Although rare, some women develop male-like body
characteristics due to an overproduction of male sex hormones, so-called “androgens.” The androgenic effects on the human body explain why men perform better than women in most
sports and are, in fact, the very reason for the distinction between male and female competition in most sports. Consequently, women with
hyperandrogenism generally perform better in sport than other women.
The early prevention of problems associated with hyperandrogenism.
In order to protect the health of the athlete, sports authorities should have the responsibility to make sure that any case of female hyperandrogenism that arises under their jurisdiction receives adequate medical follow-up.
Privacy and Confidentiality
A respect for confidentiality in the medical process and the need to avoid public exposure of young females with hyperandrogenism who may be
psychologically vulnerable.
The medical process under the regulations shall be conducted in strict confidentiality and all cases shall be referred to the expert medical panel on an anonymous basis.
The investigation of a particular case should be conducted under strict confidentiality.
The policy also addresses the issue of confidentiality for female athletes, and this is where the policy falls short. Firstly, the process of testing and treating an athlete takes months, a time during which she is unable to compete.

In Semenya’s case, her absence after she won the 800m started to become suspicious. It should be made fair that women with DSD should not be disqualified from competing in elite sporting events. Nor should they be stigmatised and their right to privacy should be guaranteed by sports organisations during the process of gender verification (Karkazia et al., 2012).

All of the above researchers have had much trouble trying to readdress the issue of females in sport, especially to the IOC and IAAF. However, both the media and other competitors play a major role in the including or excluding of female athletes, who do not appear to be ‘female’ in their own eyes, from competing.

Cultural and Social Analysis
Society has had a great impact on the way that females look, dress and act. When someone breaks any of these norms society is quick to pick out the individual who is ‘different’.

The media have heavily influences the way in which society has portrayed the culture and image of females in sport. The media are responsible for shaping the sports we watch and listen to. It was found that only 10% of all sports coverage in Australia was allocated to women’s sport (Australian Sporting Commission, 2012). However, when Caster Semenya was convicted cheating for ‘being a man’ the media, globally, had full attention on her.

This video paints a great picture on how media is changing society, even from a young age.

Dove Onslaught Commercial YouTube (2007)

It is clearly evident why society thought that Caster Semenya could have been male. Her masculine appearance, deeper voice and fantastic athletic ability lead society to believe that there was no way she could have been a female. Our westernised society has been affected by this media portrayal, and needs to recognise that not every female presents with the same features, the same body shape or the same sexual develop. Every female is different, however these differences shouldn’t stop females being females.
This issue should be properly addressed to society so that there will be no longer a reason to segregate these women from competing in elite sports (Karkazia et al., 2012).

Society needs to look for the research, and it is essentially to develop an awareness of women with higher testosterone. People must understand that women with hyperandrogenism have not cheated they were born this way. There is no reason to disqualify women whose bodies produce any of the complex components that add up to a perfect athlete. Whether it be there outstanding dream to do well at the Olympics, have longer legs, are more flexible, have bigger lungs or have higher testosterone levels.

The assumption made by the IAAF and IOC policies is that high levels of testosterone in women create an unfair advantage and must therefore be regulated. The current scientific evidence, as stated in the literature review, does not support the notion that women’s testosterone levels confer athletic advantage in any straightforward or predictable way. Even if naturally occurring variation in testosterone conferred advantage, is that advantage unfair? It bears noting that athletes never begin on a fair playing field; if they were not exceptional in one regard or another, they would not have made it to a prestigious international athletic stage. However, the IAAF and IOC target testosterone as the most important factor in contributing to athletic advantage. The policies seek to do the impossible: isolate androgen from other possible biological factors and material resources to determine the impact that it alone, in the form of testosterone, has on athletic advantage. Setting hyperandrogenism apart from other possible biological factors that are not regulated by the IAAF and IOC but that also might influence athletic advantage seems illogical and unfair.
The gender verification policy needs to be reconsidered by the IOC and IAAF at every level for the sake of women with hyperandrogenism, their families and friends and their country that the athlete is are representing.

Analysis of the Artefact

The artefact represents Caster Semenya mother’s point of view on her daughter’s gender. Semenya’s Mother has no doubt that her daughter would at all be male, and did not let the questions asked by the BBC interviewer dilute Caster’s moment of triumph.

The artefact questions the IOC and IAAF gender verification policies to whether or not they should purely be based on women with hyperandrogenism or a person birth certificate and external genitalia.

To me this artefact personally means not all of someone’s gender is defined by extensive laboratory testing. Someone should be able to tell a person’s gender by how they have been brought up and what gender their family and friends consider that person as. Caster Semenya’s Mother explained that Caster came out of her own womb and she has no doubt that she is anything but female. Her birth certificate also states she is a girl, and to me this means that she is a girl. Caster herself, her family and her friends should not have to go through all of this grief, especially when they know themselves that she is female.

As a result of this assignment I have learnt that scientifically there is a lot more to gender then just being male or female, and dividing people into these two categories can be a challenge. However, I have learnt that it does not always have to be this hard. With the improvements in science it has become more clear that women who do not appear as a women resulting from different forms of DSD’s do not create an unfair disadvantage throughout elite sports. I have also found that the IOC and the IAAF’s gender verification policies have only diminished athlete’s dreams from competing in the Olympics. My question is, was there anything initially wrong with just determining an athlete’s gender by their external genitalia and what is said on their birth certificate? Maybe the original gender verification policy where all athletes were to parade naked in front of doctors was not such a bad idea.

Reference List

Adams, W. (2009, August 21). Could this women’s world champ be a man?. Times. Retrieved from,8599,1917767,00.html

Australian Sporting Commission. (2012). Research. Retrieved from

BBC. (2009, August 26). Caster Semenya's Mom interviewed [Video file]. Retrieved from

Boron, W.F., & Boulpaep, E.L. (2003). Medical Physiology: A Cellular and Molecular Approach. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders.

Dove. (2007, October 18). Dove commercial - Onslaught [Video file]. Retrieved from

Genel, M., & Ljungqvist, A. (2005). Essay: Gender verification of female athletes. The Lancet, 366, 1-S41. Retrieved from;

Hercher, L. (2010). Gender Verification: A term whose time has come and gone. Journal of Genetic Counselling, 19(6), 551-3. Doi: 10.1007/s10897-010-9323-2

Karkazia, K., Jordan-Young, R., Davis, G., & Campores, S. (2012) Out of Bounds? A Critique of the New Policies on Hyperandrogenism in Elite Female Athletes. The American Journal of Bioethics, 12(7), 3-16. doi: 10.1080/15265161.2012.680533

Levy, A. (2009, November 1). Sports, sex, and the case of Caster Semenya. New Yorker, p46-59.

Oxford Dicationany. (2012). Definition of Gender. Retrieved from

Simpson, J. (2000). Gender Verification in the Olympics. Journal of the American Medical Association, 284, 1568-1569. doi: 10.1001/jama.284.12.1568

Wilson, D. (2000). Gender vs. Sex. Journal of American Medical Association, 284(23), 2997-2998. Retrieved from articleid=1031120

Wood, R., & Stanton, S. (2011). Testosterone and sport: Current Perspectives. Hormones and Behaviour, 61(1), 147-155. doi: 10.1016/j.yhbeh.2011.09.010

Learning Engagement and Reflection
Link 1:

Link 2: