In the Halfway house of Ill Repute: Gender verification under a different name, still no contribution to fair play

Maren Behrensen*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

10 Citations (Scopus)


The aftermath of Caster Semenyas resounding victory in the womens 800 m at the 2009 Athletics World Championships in Berlin highlighted the ethical and scientific flaws of gender verification in womens athletics. It has led the governing international body of professional athletics, the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF), to adopt new rules regarding athletes with differences of sexual developments (DSDs) in womens competitions in 2011 (Regulations on Hyperandrogenism). The International Olympic Committee followed suit and adopted a similar set of rules in 2012. Locating the practice of gender verification in a history of sexist stereotyping of women athletes (in Section 1), I argue (in Section 2), following other critics, that the IAAFs new rules suffer from the same ethical flaws as their predecessors; and specifically that they still invite and rely on qualitative measuring of an athletes femininity and masculinity. In the central section of this paper (Section 3), I relate the practice of gender verification to the vexing question of what constitutes an unfair advantage in sports. I suggest, first, that athletes with a DSD should be at liberty to exploit competitive advantages their conditions might confer on them, just as most athletes in most sports are at liberty to exploit their congenital traits (the only irrelevant difference being that DSDs are construed as gendered advantages). In a second step, I argue that gender segregation in sports and gender verification practices cannot both be defended by an appeal to fairness. If we want to preserve gender segregation, then we ought to give up gender verification; and if we are not prepared to give up regulation of gendered congenital advantages, then we ought to give up gender segregation in favor of a classification system that tracks genetic predisposition rather than gender.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)450-466
Number of pages17
JournalSport, Ethics and Philosophy
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2013
Externally publishedYes


  • Fairness
  • Gender segregation
  • Gender verification
  • Sexism in sports
  • Women's sports


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