HRW calls on sport governing bodies to halt ‘sex testing’ of women athletes ahead of Olympics
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HRW calls on sport governing bodies to halt ‘sex testing’ of women athletes ahead of Olympics

Human Rights Watch (HRW) on Friday called on sport governing bodies like World Athletics, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the World Anti-Doping Agency to stop “sex testing” women runners and athletes.

Sex testing is the practice of using unnecessary medical procedures and testing as conditions to compete in certain events. According to the report, sex testing has been in place for almost a century, but groups like World Athletics and the IOC made it mandatory for women competing in track and field and other running events in the 1960s.

HRW claimed in its report that under the guise of fair competition, sex testing continues to “violate[] a range of internationally protected fundamental rights including privacy, dignity, health, non-discrimination, freedom from ill-treatment, and employment rights.” In addition to violating athletes’ rights, the procedures required under this practice pose the risk of implicating the doctors, sporting bodies and governments required to conduct them in order for athletes to compete.

To find a way to stop these human rights violations, HRW conducted interviews with 13 women athletes of color, all from unnamed, historically exploited countries. The sex testing discussed most is the testing of blood for the “scientifically specious threshold for functional endogenous testosterone that they deemed confers a performance advantage.” 

While HRW’s report made accusations against World Athletics, it also specifically called on the IOC to stop sex testing athletes ahead of the 2021 Summer Olympics:

In advance of the delayed 2020 Tokyo Olympics, the International Olympic Committee (IOC)—the supreme authority in international sports—said it was planning to “reflect further on new guidelines for athletes’ inclusion on the basis of sex characteristics and gender identity,” and make significant changes ahead of future Games. The postponement of the Tokyo Games to 2021 provides a valuable window for the IOC to develop guidelines in line with international human rights standards and medical ethics.

HRW laid out the discrimination, surveillance, coercion, and stigma women athletes face, then provided recommendations to specific and general sporting associations and governments to alleviate them. One such recommendation is for World Athletics to rescind the Eligibility Regulations for the Female Classification (Athletes with Differences of Sex Development) 2019.

HRW noted that “[r]egulating fair play is a valid undertaking for sport authorities; committing human rights violations in the process is not.”