Human Rights Watch calls for end to "sex testing" for female athletes

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Caster Semenya
Caster Semenya
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The NGO Human Rights Watch (HRW) on Friday called on World Athletics to end "sex testing" on females, particularly hyperandrogenic athletes like Caster Semenya, calling these practices "discriminatory" and breaching the "dignity" of women.

The report claims that the standards of feminity required were "often deeply racially biased" with women from the Global South "disproportionately affected".

"Through their policies, sport governing bodies have created environments that coerce some women into invasive and unnecessary medical interventions as a condition to compete in certain events," the NGO wrote in its report which includes testimonials from athletes. 

"And sports officials have engaged in vitriolic public criticism that has ruined careers and lives."

World Athletics regulations "discriminate against women on the basis of their sex, their sex characteristics, and their gender expression," says the report. 

"Sex testing violates a range of internationally protected fundamental rights including to privacy, dignity, health, non-discrimination, freedom from ill-treatment, and employment rights."

Since April 2018, World Athletics has required women with a natural excess of male sex hormones to lower their testosterone levels through treatment in order to compete in races between 400 metres and a mile.

The ruling concerns, in particular, the South African Olympic 800m champion Semenya, who has elevated testosterone due to differences of sexual development (DSD) but identifies as a woman and races as a woman.

The 29-year-old, who refuses to comply with the ruling, intends to turn to the European Court of Human Rights after her case was dismissed by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS). 

HWR, which in its report recommends that World Athletics abolish its regulations, is also appealing to the International Olympic Committee (IOC).

World Athletics released a statement criticising the report while underlining its commitment to women in sport.

"This report was not written by independent and impartial experts, but rather by advocates for one side of the argument," it said in the statement. 

"World Athletics was not asked to provide a response to these allegations as part of the report, which would have provided much-needed balance on this very complex issue.

"We remain committed to fairness for women in sport and reject the allegation that biological limits are based on race or gender stereotypes."

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