Testing sex and gender in sports; reinventing, reimagining and reconstructing histories

Endeavour. 2010 Dec;34(4):157-63. doi: 10.1016/j.endeavour.2010.09.005. Epub 2010 Oct 25.


Most international sports organisations work on the premise that human beings come in one of two genders: male or female. Consequently, all athletes, including intersex and transgender individuals, must be assigned to compete in one or other category. Since the 1930s (not, as is popularly suggested, the 1960s) these organisations have relied on scientific and medical professionals to provide an 'objective' judgement of an athlete's eligibility to compete in women's national and international sporting events. The changing nature of these judgements reflects a great deal about our cultural, social and national prejudices, while the matter of testing itself has become a site of conflict for feminists and human rights activists. Because of the sensitive nature of this subject, histories of sex testing are difficult to write and research; this has lead to the repetition of inaccurate information and false assertions about gender fraud, particularly in relation to the 'classic' cases of Stella Walsh and Heinrich/Hermann/Dora Ratjen. As historians, we need to be extremely careful to differentiate between mythologies and histories.

Publication types

  • Historical Article
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Chromosomes, Human, Y
  • Culture*
  • Female
  • Femininity / history*
  • Fraud
  • Gender Identity*
  • History, 20th Century
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Masculinity / history*
  • Prejudice*
  • Sex Characteristics
  • Sex Factors
  • Social Perception*