Female Athletes Want the Testosterone Testing to Stop!

“The treatment of female athletes, and intersex women in particular, has a long and sordid history. For centuries, sport was the exclusive province of males… As women athletes’ strength and confidence grew, some observers began to wonder if fast, powerful athletes could even be women.” R. Padawer, The New York Times

ESL Voices Lesson Plan for this post with Answer Key

Dutee Chand is the current national champion in the women's 100 metres event. When dropped from the national team, advocates encouraged her to fight back. NYT

Dutee Chand is the current national champion in the women’s 100 metres event. When dropped from the national team, advocates encouraged her to fight back. NYT

Excerpt: The Humiliating Practice of Sex-Testing Female Athletes, By Ruth Padawer, The New York Times

“By the mid-1940s, international sports administrators began requiring female competitors to bring medical ‘femininity certificates’ to verify their sex. In the 1950s, many Olympics officials were so uneasy about women’s participation that Prince Franz Josef of Liechtenstein, a member of the International Olympic Committee, spoke for many when he said he wanted to be spared the unesthetic spectacle of women trying to look and act like men…Others were particularly bothered by women in track and field because of the strained expressions on their faces during competition…Amid complaints about the genital checks, the I.A.A.F. and the I.O.C. introduced a new gender verification strategy in the late ’60s: a chromosome test. Officials considered that a more dignified, objective way to root out not only impostors but also intersex athletes, who, Olympic officials said, needed to be barred to ensure fair play… the tests discriminated against those whose anomalies provided little or no competitive edge and traumatized women who had spent their whole lives certain they were female, only to be told they were not female enough to participate.Maria José Martínez Patiño was kicked off the Spanish team and stripped of her titles. Photo outsport.com

One of those competitors was Maria José Martínez Patiño, a 24-year-old Spanish hurdler who was to run at the 1985 World University Games in Japan…because of a genetic mutation, her cells completely resisted the testosterone she produced, so her body actually had access to less testosterone than a typical woman… Spanish athletic officials told her she should feign an injury and withdraw from athletics permanently and without fuss. She refused. Instead, she ran the 60-meter hurdles and won, at which point someone leaked her test results to the press.Patiño was thrown off the national team, expelled from the athletes’ resi­dence and denied her scholarship. Her boyfriend and many friends and fellow athletes abandoned her. Her medals and records were revoked. Patiño became the first athlete to formally protest the chromosome test and to argue that disqualification was unjustified.

Caster Semenya Forces Olympic Community to Rethink Gender.

Caster Semenya Forces Olympic Community to Rethink Gender.

When Caster Semenya blew by her opponents in the 800-meter race at the 2009 African Junior Championships, her performance raised suspicions. Shortly after, sports officials tested her as she prepared for the World Athletics Championship. Unconcerned — she assumed the investigation was for doping — Semenya won gold again. Almost immediately, the fact that Semenya had been sex-tested was leaked to the press. Instead of attending what is normally the celebratory news conference, Semenya went into hiding.

Dutee Chand celebrates after winning the womens 100m event at the `55th National Open Athletics Championships 2015` in Kolkata

Dutee Chand celebrates after winning the womens 100m event at the `55th National Open Athletics Championships 2015` in Kolkatawas.

Dutee Chand was unaware of any controversy surrounding Semenya or other intersex athletes.  At 16, she also became a national champion in the under-18 category, winning the 100 meters in 11.8 seconds. The next year, she won gold in the 100 meters and the 200 meters. In June 2014, she won gold yet again at the Asian championships in Taipei.

Not long after that, she received the call to go to Delhi and was tested. The particulars of her results were not made public, but the media learned, and announced, that Chand had failed a gender test and wasn’t a ‘normal’ woman.

As news spread that Chand had been dropped from the national team, advocates encouraged her to fight back. Payoshni Mitra, an Indian researcher with a doctorate in gender issues in sport who had advocated on behalf of other intersex athletes, suggested Chand send a letter to the Athletics Federation of India, requesting her disqualification be reversed…In the new guidelines, female-to-male athletes face no restrictions of any kind; male-to-female athletes have some restrictions, including suppressing their testosterone levels below the typical male range…Those debates are far from Chand’s thoughts. Her focus now is on making the most of the window the ruling provides: allowing her to try to qualify for next month’s Olympics without having to change her body. In the miserable months after her test results were revealed, Chand’s training time and concentration were interrupted, and her hope of ever competing seemed out of reach. Once the ruling was issued, though, she returned to the Indian national team, and intensified her training for the 100 meters, the 200 meters and the 400-meter relay… In addition to working out six hours a day, she tries to relax with naps… She is painfully aware that if she doesn’t make this summer’s [2016] Olympics, she may not have another chance.”



ESL Voices Lesson Plan for this post

NOTE: Lessons can also be used with native English speakers.

Level:  Advanced

Language Skills: Reading, writing, and speaking. Vocabulary and grammar activities are included.

Time: Approximately 2 hours.

Materials: Student handout (from this lesson) and access to news article.

Objective: Students will read and discuss the article
with a focus on improving reading comprehension and learning new vocabulary. At the end of the lesson students will express their personal views on the topic through group work and writing.

I. Pre-Reading Activities

 Predictions: Using a Pre-reading Organizer

Directions:  Ask students to examine the title of the post and of the actual article they are about to read. Then, have them  examine the photos. Ask students to write a paragraph describing what they think this article will discuss. Students can use a Pre-reading organizer for assistance.

Pre-reading chart by J. Swann

Pre-reading chart by J. Swann

II. While Reading Activities

Word Inference

Directions: Students are to infer the meanings of the words in bold taken from the article. They may use a dictionary, thesaurus, and Word Chart for assistance.

  1. Sports organizations have been policing women for masculine qualities.
  2. Chand was raised in Gopalpur, a rural village in eastern India with only intermittent electricity.
  3. The doctor told her he would forgo the usual urine and blood tests.
  4. Competitors said her physique seemed suspiciously masculine.
  5. The doctor ordered an ultrasound for Chand.
  6. The word hermaphrodite is considered stigmatizing.
  7. Because of a genetic quirk some are born with ambiguous genitalia.
  8. For Chand, who had never heard the words testosterone it has been a slow and painful education.
  9. Nobody has so tenaciously tried to determine who counts as a woman for the purpose of sports as the I.A.A.F.
  10. Their rationale for decades was to catch male athletes masquerading as women.
Vocabulary Organizer by Against the Odds

Vocabulary Organizer by Against the Odds

Reading Comprehension


Directions: Place students in groups and after they have read the entire article, have them complete the following paragraphs taken from the article. They can use the words and terms from the list provided, or provide their own terms. They are to find the meanings of any new vocabulary.

In 1938, the ___of an ___was again in dispute. The ___high-jumper Dora Ratjen, a ___four th-place Olympian who won a gold medal at the European Athletics Championship, was suddenly identified as male, prompting Germany to___ return the medal. When Ratjen’s case became public years later — he claimed that the___pressured him to___as a ___for three years — it vali­dated the growing anxiety about gender___ in athletics.

Word List: athlete, pose, German, gender, fraud, quietly, woman, Nazis, former,

Grammar Focus: Prepositions

Directions: The following sentences are from the news article.  For each sentence choose the correct preposition from the choices listed. Note that not all prepositions listed are in the article.

Prepositions:  in, for, of, with, by,  on, at, to, as, into, across, around, over,  through, from, during, up, off,

___the Atlanta Games___1996, one___the few times the I.O.C. allowed detailed intersex-related data___be released, seven ___the eight women who were found___have a Y chromosome turned out___ be androgen insensitive: Their bodies couldn’t use the testosterone they made… The judges concluded that requiring women like Chand___change their bodies___order___ compete was unjustifiably discriminatory.

III. Post Reading Activities

WH-How Questions

Directions: Have students use the  WH-question format to discuss or to write the main points from the article.

Who or What is the article about?

Where does the action/event take place?

When does the action/event take place?

Why did the action/event occur?

How did the action/event occur?

Discussion/Writing Activities

Directions: Place students in groups and have them  discuss the following statements. Afterwards, have the groups share their thoughts as a class. To reinforce the ideas, students can write an essay on one of the following  topics.

  1. “Well into the 20th century, women were discouraged from participating in sports. Some medical experts claimed that vigorous exercise would damage women’s reproductive capacity and their fragile emotional state and would make them muscular, “mannish” and unattractive to men. Critics fretted that athletics would unbind women from femininity’s modesty and self-restraint.”
  2. Have each group list 3  questions they would like to ask any person mentioned in the article.
  3. Have each group “Google” the topic and see what additional information they can find. Students can either have further discussions or write an essay about the subject.

1-Minute Free Writing Exercise

Directions: Allow students 1 minute to write down one new idea they’ve learned from the reading. Ask them to write down one thing they did not understand in the reading.  Review the responses as a class. Note: For the lower levels allow more time for this writing activity.


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