From Dutee Chand to Caster Semenya: Controversies related to gender identity in sports

Written By: Aditya Sahay | Updated: Jun 23, 2022, 03:16 PM(IST)

From Dutee Chand to Caster Semenya: Here's a list of sports stars that dealt with controversies related to gender identity -

All started with FINA

Swimming's world governing body FINA recently, on June 19, voted to restrict the participation of transgender athletes in elite women`s competitions and create a working group to establish an "open" category for them in some events as part of its new policy. The decision was made during FINA's extraordinary general congress on the sidelines of the world championships in Budapest after members heard a report from a transgender task force comprising leading medical, legal and sports figures.

The new policy will require transgender competitors to have completed their transition by the age of 12 in order to be able to compete in women`s competitions. The policy was passed with a roughly 71% majority after it was put to the members of 152 national federations with voting rights who had gathered for the congress at the Puskas Arena.

While a lot has been said and written about the move, here's looking at some sporting stars who have been involved in controversies related to gender identity.

(Inputs from Agency)

(Photograph:AFP)

1) Dutee Chand

Hailing from a small village in Odisha, Dutee has won laurels for the country and also holds the national record in the women’s 100 metres. 

Nonetheless, she was involved in a huge controversy regarding her gender identity after she was dropped from the 2014 Commonwealth Games, stating that she was ineligible to compete as a female athlete. The sprinter didn't lose hope and showed her fighting spirit by taking the battle heads on. She went all the way to the Court of Arbitration for Sport in Lausanne, which suspended the ban on her by the Indian body as well as the International Association of Athletics Federations.

Thus, this landmark decision, taken in 2015, has had a huge impact on international athletics and discriminatory ‘hyperandrogenism’ (excessive testosterone circulating in female bodies) policies.

(Photograph:Twitter)

2) Lia Thomas

Transgender swimmer Lia Thomas's dominance in the US college system was interrupted with a huge controversy following a teammate's remarks about the athlete in early 2022. A University of Pennsylvania swimmer has spoken out against team member Thomas' dominance in the pool, claiming she “was not even close” to being competitive in male events before transitioning.

The anonymous female swimmer made heads turn in a glaring interview to the Washington Examiner, only a day after Thomas had added two more wins at a meet against Ivy League rival Harvard University. The New York Post reported she lashed out at the NCAA for not acknowledging the 22-year-old Thomas of having a distinct advantage and even went onto accuse the board of governors of “not protecting women’s rights.”

“Women are now third-class citizens,” the swimmer told the outlet. “Lia was not even close to being competitive as a man in the 50 and the 100 (freestyle events). But just because Lia is biologically a man, (Lia) is just naturally better than many females in the 50 and the 100 or anything that (Lia) wasn’t good at as a man.”

(Photograph:AFP)

3) Emily Bridges

Early this month, transgender cyclist Emily Bridges had revealed that she was threatened with 'kneecapping' after UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson had stated that 'biological males should not compete in women's sports'. The 21-year-old Bridges claimed that the prime minister's comments had sparked an "avalanche" of threats of physical violence to an extent that it made her 'scared' to even step out of home.

Speaking to ITV, Bridges didn't hold back and said, "It's really strange to see, probably the most famous man in Britain, talking about you and having an opinion on something he doesn't know anything about. The response after that was as expected. I had threats of physical violence made against me, and by complete strangers online, and I'm scared a lot of the time about being who I am in public. People are always going to have an opinion about it. They're entitled to hold an opinion about it - but there's a way to go about voicing that opinion and threatening to kneecap me is not that way."

At present, the cyclist Emily has been blocked from participating in the women’s British National Omnium Championship following the cycling’s governing body ruling her ineligible until her male UCI ID doesn't expire.

(Photograph:Twitter)

4) Laurel Hubbard

Just ahead of Tokyo 2020, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) let the International Weightlifting Federation (IWF) set the requirements for transgender weightlifters to compete at the Olympics. Hubbard ticked all the boxes and on 21 June 2021, the New Zealand Olympic Committee (NZOC) confirmed that the veteran trans athlete was roped into the squad for the New Zealand Olympic team to compete in the women's +87 kg category, becoming the oldest weightlifter to qualify for the showpiece event. 

While the decision was met with positive responses, by and large, some sections also slammed it and criticised Hubbard, claiming that the Kiwi had a biological advantage due to going through male puberty. Weightlifters including Anna Van Bellinghen and Tracey Lambrechs were critical of Hubbard's selection. It didn't die down there itself. There were support from New Zealand Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, and sports minister Grant Robertson. 

While Hubbard failed at the Tokyo 2020 to return with a medal, she acknowledged one and all for allowing her to participate and, later, hinted at retirement claiming that age has taken a toll on her.

(Photograph:Reuters)

5) Caster Semenya

The South African runner, in April 2018, saw a twist in career when the IAAF announced new rules; requiring athletes comprising certain disorders of sex development that cause testosterone levels above 5 nmol/L and androgen sensitivity to undergo medication to lower their testosterone levels in a bid to take part in the female classification, effective 8 May 2019. As the changes applied to eight different events – including the 400m, 800m, and 1500m, which Semenya regularly competed in – speculations were rife that the rule-change was only brought forward to target a top performer like her.

After a few months, Semenya announced that she would legally challenge the IAAF rules. The runner claimed that such hormonal medication, which she had taken from 2010 to 2015, had made her feel "constantly sick". In addition, it led to abdominal pain for the athlete. In early next year, the Court of Arbitration for Sport rejected her challenge. Thus, it led to the new rules to take precedence and come into effect. During the challenge, the IAAF clarified that the regulations would only apply to those with the 46,XY karyotype.

In July 2019, Semenya had pointed out that the ongoing issue had "destroyed" her "mentally and physically". When Semenya took the case ahead and appealed the decision to the Federal Supreme Court of Switzerland, she met with the rejection once again. The court had provisionally suspended the rules while finalising whether to issue an interlocutory injunction in June. However, it reversed this decision in July. Thus, it put Semenya in a spot of bother as the runner was not able to take part in the 2019 World Athletics Championships, held in Doha.

In February 2021, the double Olympic champion wasn't just done. She filed an appeal to the European Court of Human Rights.

(Photograph:Agencies)

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