In the last decades more and more gender non-conforming athletes question the binary sex categorization of athletic competition with their bodies and identities. In so doing, they challenge how sex segregated competitive sports are organized. The athletes in question are high performing cis-women athletes, but first and foremost trans* and intersex athletes. That these athletes are perceived as a threat by sport governing organizations becomes apparent in the numerous attempts to regulate the women’s category in elite sporting events.
Emanating from the idea that women have a ‘natural disadvantage’ in sports, international sports governing organizations argue - reasoned by fairness of competition - that the women’s category needs ‘protection’ from ‘non-female intruders’. Elite-athletes participating in the women’s category have thus always been required to ‘prove’ their femininity in so-called sex-tests, implemented by the international sports governing organizations. The current rules are based on endogenous testosterone and request intersex athletes to artificially suppress their testosterone levels in order to participate in athletic competition. Hence, the first time in the history of sex tests, healthy athletes are instructed to artificially regulate their bodies to comply to the sex categorization of athletic competition- and whereas high endogenous testosterone usually is not harmful, the ‘treatment’ comes along with harmful side effects. Not coincidentally the testosterone regulations affect solely women of Color from the Global South while the treatment centers are located in the Global North.
This article-based PhD-project is drawing on Foucault's concept of the Dispositif as a framework to explore the mechanisms that reify binary sex and its inherent idea of two mutual exclusive (female and male) performance abilities in elite sport. The presentation will introduce the project framework and then primarily discuss the sex-alignment of intersex athletes by sport governing organizations in the triangulation of pathologization practices, law and sport policy making.
Anna Adlwarth is currently employed at Nord University in Norway as a PhD researcher in sociology, where she is located in the research group Sport and Society. She holds a Master’s degree in Interdisciplinary Gender Studies from the University of Graz and a Master’s degree in Applied Linguistics from the University of Vienna.