Sports play a vital role in every human being’s day-to-day life. It helps a person to be fit and enhances physical strength. It promotes perseverance and determination which makes a person more focused and vigilant. In the earlier days, sports were mostly seen in the form of military training but gradually the scenario started changing with the rise of the Industrial Revolution and mass production which allocated people more leisure time to take part in and observe competitive sports.
Sports started becoming an integral part of everyone’s life. Initially, sports were considered a male-dominated area, this perception was diluted with the advent of women’s participation in the Olympics in the early 1900s. Sports were still perceived as a sex-segregated institution which accepted binary gender roles of male and female. In the year 2003, International Olympic Committee (IOC) summoned a committee which created guidelines for the participation of transgender athletes. In 2004, transgender athletes were finally allowed to participate in the Olympics. But still to this day the decision of allowing transgender athletes in sports is considered a controversial topic.
RIGHTS OF TRANSGENDER IN THE INDIAN CONSTITUTION
The transgender persons (protection of rights) Bill 2019 was introduced by the minister of social justice and empowerment Mr Thawaarchand Gehlot on July 19 2019. The Supreme Court has stated, “the right to self-identification of gender is part of the right to dignity and autonomy under Article 21 of the Constitution”. According to the bill, every transgender person has the right to residence and inclusion in his community. Any government or private institution cannot discriminate against transgender in recruitment or promotion opportunities. Any funded educational institution or an educational institution recognized by the government, without any discrimination shall strive to allocate inclusive education and adequate recreational facilities including sports. The government shall take steps to ensure transgender inclusion and representation in society.
GENDER TESTING: RIGHT OR WRONG?
Sex determination or gender testing was first introduced in 1966 at the European athlete championship. As a result, a medical commission was established by the Indian Olympic committee. The testing was done mostly on women who had to go through visual and DNA testing. This practice was highly critiqued as being unjust and invasive of one’s right to privacy.
In the year 1967, at the European athletes’ club, a new method named the sex chromatin test was introduced. The test now also included women with chromosomal abnormalities, meaning women with different genetics than the one prescribed, even if they appear to be a woman. An example of such a case would be Santhi Soundarajan from Tamil Nadu. She was a silver medalist in the women’s 800 m race at the Asian games 2006, later on, she failed a gender test and was forced to renounce her silver medal and was made ineligible to compete which later harmed her mental health and she fell into depression. She was believed to have the presence of an extra Y chromosome which is called androgen insensitivity syndrome.
The Olympics Council of Asia did not release all essential lab reports in their case against Santhi for participating with an unfair advantage. Reports according to the medical experts who examined her suggested that the particular medical condition did not give her any unfair advantage over others as it is a genetic defect, which would not produce testosterone as a consequence. Many people even considered this practice unethical and invasive of privacy. Due to the irresponsibility and lack of transparency, an athlete was robbed of her medal which she rightfully deserved and it also caused her great mental turmoil. Santhi is just one among the many women who were rejected because of some chromosomal alteration. There are many other cases like Santhi’s that go unnoticed every day.
On the other hand, men surprisingly enough, are spared away from this dishonour. The decision of barring men from such a procedure conveys the message of violation of equality. Gender testing can cause physical as well as psychological harm and can affect one’s mental health. Such testing that invades a person’s privacy and harms them physically and psychologically should not be encouraged. At present, gender testing has gone through some changes and is done through a method called hormone testing, in which the athlete’s testosterone level is measured and if the level of testosterone is higher than the one prescribed, that person would be banned from the competition.
DO TRANS WOMEN HAVE AN UNFAIR ADVANTAGE IN SPORTS?
The inclusion of transgender women in sports has been controversial since the beginning. The truth is that sports are inevitably a physical test. According to studies, post-puberty males do possess higher testosterone levels and skeletal, more strength, height, dense bones and higher lung capacity. These differences surely provide post-puberty males with an advantage in performance. Even if transgender women surgically change their bodies or subdue testosterone levels still these advantages would plough on.
The opposition argues that transgender women due to their different physiology can provide an unfair advantage over cisgender female athletes. Yet trans-gendered women should not be overlooked. Supporters have stated that medically prescribed estrogen and puberty blockers can minimize these competitive advantages. They argued that transgender women are already a minority and have less representation. As sports are about socialization and welfare, banning trans women would also end up disturbing the mental health of such athletes and could cause them great harm.
The question remains on how to include trans women without endangering cis-gendered women. One possible solution to this could be by using a method called women’s sports umbrella which is done by separately scoring trans women who have transitioned before hitting male puberty and trans women who have undergone male puberty. Trans women who have not undergone male puberty with their consent should be allowed to compete and interact and should be scored with cis-gendered women without any limitation. However, trans women who have undergone male puberty and do possess some physical advantage should be scored separately in the trans category. They should still be allowed to interact and practice with their female teammates if they desire to. Their achievement will also be considered equally significant.
Sports are very crucial for the development of every human being. Sports not only impact one’s physical well-being but also builds confidence and give people power. It can address societal differences and encourage social inclusion. So, sports should not just be limited to socially accepted binary gender roles of male and female but should be accessible to everyone who identifies other than the traditional gender binary roles. Practices like gender testing which violates personal privacy should not be encouraged rather than a pragmatic approach should be considered and action should be taken as soon as possible so that deserving people like Santhi Soundararajan do not have to face injustice. We should aim to create a society where sports are not just limited to people of any specific gender but would be inclusive of all.
Author(s) Name: Aarya Shrivastava (Hidaytullah National Law University)