The Humiliating Practice of Sex-Testing Female : Athletes For years, international sports organizations have been policing women for “masculine” qualities — and turning
their Olympic dreams into nightmares. But when Dutee Chand appealed her ban, she may have changed the rules.
One day in June 2014, Dutee Chand was cooling down after a set of 200-meter sprints when she received a call from the director of the Athletics Federation of India, asking her to meet him in Delhi. Chand, then 18 and one of India’s fastest runners, was preparing for the coming Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, her first big international event as an adult. Earlier that month, Chand won gold in both the 200-meter sprint and the 4-by-400-meter relay at the Asian Junior Athletics Championships in Taipei, Taiwan, so her hopes for Scotland were high.
Chand was raised in Gopalpur, a rural village in eastern India with only intermittent electricity. The family home was a small mud hut, with no running water or toilet. Her parents, weavers who earned less than $8 a week laboring on a government-issued loom, were illiterate. They had not imagined a different life for their seven children, but Chand had other ideas. Now, as she took the five-hour bus ride to Delhi from a training center in Punjab, she thought about her impending move to Bangalore for a new training program. She wondered if she would make friends, and how she’d manage there without her beloved coach, who had long been by her side, strategizing about how best to run each race and joking to help her relax whenever she was nervous. She thought little of the meeting in Delhi, because she assumed it was for a doping test.
But when Chand arrived in Delhi, she says, she was sent to a clinic to meet a doctor from the Athletics Federation of India — the Indian affiliate of the International Association of Athletics Federations (I.A.A.F.), which governs track and field. He told her he would forgo the usual urine and blood tests because no nurse was available, and would order an ultrasound instead. That confused Chand, but when she asked him about it, she recalls, he said it was routine.
Chand had no idea that her extraordinary showing in Taipei and at a national championship earlier that month had prompted competitors and coaches to tell the federation that her physique seemed suspiciously masculine: Her muscles were too pronounced, her stride was too impressive for someone who was only five feet tall. The doctor would later deny that the ultrasound was a response to those reports, saying he ordered the scan only because Chand had previously complained of chronic abdominal pain. She contends she never had any such pain.
Three days after the ultrasound, the federation sent a letter titled “Subject: Gender Verification Issue” to the Indian government’s sports authority. “It has been brought to the notice of the undersigned that there are definite doubts regarding the gender of an Athlete Ms. Dutee Chand,” the letter read. It also noted that in the past, such cases “have brought embarrassment to the fair name of sports in India.” The letter requested the authorities perform a “gender verification test” on Chand.
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