Dutee Chand – The Athlete And The Gender Controversy

In December last year, Dutee Chand announced her arrival back on the track with a bang. In the Orissa State Championships, she bagged a gold medal in the 100 meters event and is now eagerly waiting to perform in the National Games in Kerala. But for a long time, Dutee Chand was barred from running for no fault of hers,  Sports Rediscovered takes a look at her story…

The current National champion in the women’s 100 meters event.

Talented, hardworking and dedicated.

Missed a ticket to the 2014 Commonwealth Games though.

Apparently, her achievements were not good enough.
Wondering what constitutes ‘good enough’?

The right kind of hormones !


Dutee Chand – The Gender Controversy (Image Courtesy: The Hindu)

This is the story of Dutee Chand – first Indian to reach the final of a world youth event and the National Champion in the under-18 100m category. Yet she was denied entry into the 2014 Commonwealth and Asian Games. Reason? A condition known as ‘hyperandrogenism’ (excess of androgens, which in Dutee’s case meant excessive testosterone).

Sufferers Before Dutee Chand:

This is not an isolated incident. Caster Semenya, Sarah Gronert, Stella Walsh, Pinki Pramanik and many more have had to face the ire of the world after failing what were known earlier as ‘gender tests’. Most went with the tide. The gender scrutiny being too much to handle, they hung up their shoes or undertook surgery to limit testosterone production. Dutee, however, chose to take the road less travelled – and challenged the authorities.

Dutee was given the option to return to the track on the condition that she either takes hormone suppressing drugs or gets a surgery done to limit the testosterone production. Dutee, however, turned down the offer.

Why should she not?  Are we telling a promising athlete that she ‘needs’ to genetically alter her body to prove her worth? Are we going to punish her for something as natural as sweat and blood?


Dutee Chand – Gender Controversy (Pic Courtesy: Indian Express)

We need to understand how ‘Gender’ and ‘Sex’ are two different things. The difference is slight and easy to miss, but the ambiguity concerning it has to be brought into light. ‘Sex’, is a biological idea, while ‘Gender’ is a social and cultural construct.

Sadly, the ideas of “frailty” and “elegance” have now become central to the idea of being a woman. A woman who does not fit into these categories is tagged “unfeminine”. Are these ‘gender tests’ not preposterous? Are we banning an athlete from participating in the sport of her choice because she is not “womanly enough”? Should not an athlete be treated simply on the basis of her merit?

Help From The Sports Authority Of India

Thankfully for Dutee Chand, the Sports Authority of India (SAI) extended its support. Jiji Thompson, the man at the helm at that time, sent out a statement clearing all questions regarding the nature of the test and helped Dutee plead her case at the Court of Arbitration for Sports (CAS).

On the 18th of December, the Court of Arbitration for Sports (CAS) allowed the sprinter to participate in national and state level events till a final verdict was reached on her appeal against International Amateur Athletics Association’s (IAAF) hyperandrogenism policy.

“Sport celebrates human diversity, regardless of inherent natural characteristics. Such a policy is contrary to the spirit of sports. Only women athletes fall under these regulations and there is enough evidence that athletes from countries like India are targeted and tested under this policy. So this policy of discrimination against women needs to be stopped immediately.”
-SAI Director General, Jiji Thomson

Food for thought indeed. Why is it that “only female athletes” fall under such an inspection? Firstly, this professes the idea that the male body is the norm and that to have “so-called-manly-features” is an advantage in sports. So a person’s sexuality has to be questioned if they exhibit “abnormal” characteristics. Going by that logic, strength, stamina and speed can be attributed only to men and if a woman displays any of these, she’s “manly”.

Let us take a moment to consider Michael Phelps here. The body proportions that help him cut through water with such elegance could be because of “Marfan Syndrome”. If physical build is not a point of debate, then why should hormones be?

The sooner the ambiguous views on Gender and Sex are cleared, the better it is for these athletes toiling hard, day in and day out, to achieve their dreams. To bar them from taking part in competitions because of this ambiguity is a merciless practice. Here’s hoping the courage that Dutee Chand has shown will help in bringing a change in the world of athletics.

A natural sprinter like Dutee, finds herself in the middle of a long marathon, to prove that she belongs. She is running against years of prejudice. This is one race where Dutee is a winner, irrespective of the verdict by CAS- for by taking the road less travelled, she is striving for greater inclusivity in all sports.

Click here for IOC Regulations on Hyperandrogenism.

Caster Semenya  

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