Policing the boundaries of sex: a critical examination of gender verification and the Caster Semenya controversy

J Sex Res. 2013;50(2):103-11. doi: 10.1080/00224499.2012.725488. Epub 2013 Jan 15.


On August 19, 2009, Caster Semenya, South African track star, won a gold medal in the women's 800-meter event. According to media reports, on the same day, the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) ordered Semenya to undergo gender verification testing. This article critically assesses the main concepts and claims that undergird international sport organizations' policies regarding "gender verification" or "sex testing." We examine the ways in which these policies operate through several highly contested assumptions, including that (a) sex exists as a binary; (b) sport is a level playing field for competitors; and (c) some intersex athletes have an unfair advantage over women who are not intersex and, as such, they should be banned from competition to ensure that sport is a level playing field. To conclude, we make three recommendations that are consistent with the attainment of sex and gender justice in sport, which include acknowledging that myriad physical advantages are accepted in sport, recognizing that sport as a level playing field is a myth, and eliminating sex testing in sport.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Athletes / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Female
  • Gender Identity
  • Humans
  • Hyperandrogenism*
  • Male
  • Sex Characteristics
  • Sex Determination Analysis / ethics*
  • Sex Determination Analysis / statistics & numerical data
  • Sports / ethics
  • Sports / legislation & jurisprudence*