Sports needs to take a stand against offensive sex tests

Opinion articlesRFSL

Professional athlete Caster Semenya is being forced to medically lower her testosterone levels in order to be allowed to compete with other women. She has repeatedly been subject to serious violations of human rights. We condemn a practice in professional sports that violates people's dignity and expect Swedish politicians and representatives of Swedish sports to do the same.

May 13 2019

For years, South African star athlete Caster Semenya has dominated in the 800-meter sprint. She has won several World Athletics Championship and Olympic gold medals. But her career has been paved with privacy-intrusive violations and speculations about her achievements.

When she won the 800-meter sprint at the World Athletics Championships in 2009, it was announced that she would have to undergo a sex test. Caster Semenya herself says that she’s a woman and that she has never discussed her biology publically. But others have. Speculations have been made about her genitals and gender identity, and there have been several attempts to end her career in sports.

For Caster Semenya, the sex tests have meant years of being questioned. Last week, a verdict from The Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) determined that Caster Semenya has to lower her testosterone levels medically to be allowed to compete.

The decision has been widely criticised. The World Medical Association (WMA) asked its members not to attend the implementation of the new rule since it contravenes human rights to force someone into undergoing hormone treatment that isn’t medically necessary. The Swedish Medical Association made it clear that they supported this assessment.

The Canadian Minister of Sport and Persons with Disabilities said that the Caster Semenya ruling shows “total disregard for human dignity”. The Canadian Anti-Doping Program (CADP) has condemned the decision, and the Athletics Canada – Track and Field Federation says that it won’t be implementing the policy in Canada.

The UN Council for Human Rights has said that all sports organisations should abstain from creating rules that force and pressure women into undergoing unnecessary, degrading and painful medical processes in order to compete against other women. The Swedish Athletic Association, however, stands behind the decision about testosterone limits.

One thing is clear to us:
Sports shouldn’t be given a get-out-of-jail-free card from the development of the rest of society. Human rights should be respected in sports as well as other arenas. There’s no higher purpose that justifies violations. Interventions such as involuntary outer physical inspections, chromosome tests and other sex tests constitute a crime against human rights and violate human integrity. Compulsory medication is an example of cruel or inhumane treatment.

We condemn the practice in professional sports that violates people’s dignity, and we expect that Swedish politicians and representatives of Swedish sports to do the same. Swedish sports has a responsibility to take the lead and take a stand. This is not the way forward. The way forward has to be allowing athletes to do their job free from violations. Swedish sports needs to take a clear stand for the human rights of those who practice sports.

Sandra Ehne, national president of RFSL
Del LaGrace Volcano, president of OII Sverige
Jêran Rostam, national president of RFSL Ungdom
Hans Linde, national president of RFSU 
Vix Viktoria Herjeryd, president of Stockholm Pride
Maurine Filip, president of Svenska Skridskoförbundet
Sofia Larsson, sports coordinator at Svenska Skridskoförbundet
Elisabet Nidsjö, psychologist at RFSL Rådgivningen Skåne
Noel Andersson Köhler, athlete with trans experience
Nova Nouveau Johansson, athlete with trans experience
Jonas Arvidsson, athlete with trans experience
Petra Douhane, norm specialist 

The opinion article was published in Dagens Samhälle May 13 2019