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IOC on gender issues

International sports officials are finalising guidelines on how to deal with cases of athletes with ambiguous sexual characteristics.

Arne Ljungqvist, chairperson of the International Olympic Committee’s medical commission, said rules on gender determination will be issued soon to help resolve an issue that gained global attention with the dispute involving South African runner Caster Semenya.

Ljungqvist said the rules will apply for the 2012 London Olympics and also serve as recommendations for all international federations to follow in their own sports.

“What we are aiming at is finding ways to establish rules and regulations for participation … in female competition,” Ljungqvist said in an interview with The Associated Press. “I am hopeful we will arrive at that.”

Ljungqvist declined to give details of the recommendations, saying they are still under consideration and will likely be submitted for approval to the International Olympic Committee executive board in January.

The IOC is working with track and field’s governing body, the International Association of Athletics Federations, which is to review the gender issue at its council meeting this weekend in Monaco.

“They will hopefully have some general principles approved,” Ljungqvist said. “This needs to be a step-by-step procedure. Our hope is that, in the end, we will be able to clarify this whole matter to the satisfaction of the sports community.”

The initiative was not a direct response to Semenya’s case, but is meant to bring clarity on a condition that is sometimes referred to as “intersex” – in which a person has reproductive or sexual anatomy that doesn’t fit typical definitions of male or female.

Semenya won the women’s 800 metres in dominant fashion at the 2009 world championships in Berlin. Her dramatic improvement in times and muscular build led the IAAF to order gender tests.

Amid acrimony between the IAAF and Semenya and South African officials, the case dragged on for 11 months before the IAAF cleared Semenya to run again as a woman in July. The IAAF has refused to confirm or deny Australian media reports that tests indicated Semenya had both male and female sex organs.

The IOC and IAAF have organised two conferences on gender verification, one with scientific and medical experts and the other with athletes, lawyers and human rights groups. “We had them all at the table and we arrived at some conclusions which are now being dealt with,” Ljungqvist said. “The meetings have been very helpful.”

After the first meeting in Miami last January, Ljungqvist said that experts recommended the establishment of medical centres around the world where doctors would diagnose and treat athletes with what he called “disorders of sex development.” Most cases, Ljungqvist said, require treatment such as surgery or hormone therapy.
Ljungqvist, a former IAAF vice president and head of its medical commission until 2007, believes athletics is the sport where the gender issue is most prevalent.
“They have had not just one case, but a few cases before I left,” he said. “They are the federation with some knowledge and experience and have been addressing the issue.”

The IOC used to carry out mandatory gender exams at the Olympics, but those checks were dropped in 1999 because the screening process – chromosome testing – was deemed unscientific and unethical. The IOC instead has convened a special medical panel on site at the Olympics that can intervene, if necessary.