When athlete Dutee Chand came in at 7th place in her Olympic event on Friday, failing to qualify for the semi-finals, she lost her final chance to compete for India at sports events such as this.
Chand’s story can tear hearts apart. Like a number of women in sport (and other fields), she has high naturally occurring testosterone or ‘hyperandrogenism’, which means that her gender is in question.
While all women have small amounts of testosterone in their systems, this is a hormone that is primarily associated with men. Specifically, it gives men their aggression, greater strength than women, greater stamina and endurance.
Chand did not know this till 12 July, 2014, when she was unceremoniously pulled out of the Indian team headed for the Commonwealth Games.
Since she was 19, she had been doing brilliantly on the track. She’d reached the finals of the 100 metre event in the World Youth Athletics meet in 2013. The same year, shewon the title of India’s fastest women in the national championships at Ranchi.
And then suddenly, in July 2014, her career was in shambles.
When she was dropped from the Commonwealth Games team, Chand was not told why. She learned of her hyperandrogenism only later, when the Athletics Federation of India asked her to take a gender test, just like Caster Semenya of South Africa, and Pinki Pramanik and Santhi Soundarajan of India before her. The tests and the humiliation pressured those athletes to either give up their running shoes or undertake surgery to limit their testosterone production.
But Chand refused either of those options. “It’s wrong to have to change your body for sport participation. I’m not changing for anyone,” she said, deciding to fight her case rather than give in.
With help from Jiji Thomson, then head of the Sports Authority of India, Chand filed an appeal against the AFI’s stand, and after a long battle in the Court of Arbitration for Sport, won back the right to compete as a woman.
Chand had won her most difficult war: a war to maintain her dignity.
On June 25 this year, Chand achieved her highest ambition: to run for India in the Olympics. She won the silver at the Kosanov Memorial International Athletic Meet in Kazakhstan, clocking 11.24 seconds in the women’s 100m race, which qualified her to participate in the Rio Olympics.
On Friday, Chand took the Olympic track for the first time. But with the International Association of Athletics Federations intending to prove that high naturally occurring testosterone provides an unfair advantage to women athletes, and with the International Olympic Committee planning to stand by the IAAF, there may be no more chances for Dutee Chand.
Feature image credit: Indian Express