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Intersex dilemma

by
23 September 2009

iStock

From Emma Laughton

Sir, — Susannah Cornwall (Comment, 18 September) provides valuable information about intersex conditions, and rightly points out that they raise important questions for Christian theology and ethics. But the patronising way she de­scribes the International Asso­ciation of Athletics Federations (IAAF) as “disturbed” by something that is “never simple” is less justified, even though the mishandling of Caster Semenya’s case gave the cruelty of the media a field day.

Sports were segregated by gender long before medical knowledge about intersex became widely avail­able. They are segregated so that both women and men can parti­cipate and win. In many sports, if women were required to compete directly against men, very few would stand a chance, and women’s parti­cipation would collapse. This would be a grave injustice to women, and it would be wrong for this to happen just because some indi­viduals’ bodies “push the demarca­tions”. Segregation may be undesirable in many social spheres, but in sport it does have a defensible rationale.

The IAAF is faced with a real and practical dilemma. In order to participate in segregated sports, a person must be classified male or female. If a person is “wrongly” classified, this is an injustice. What does Ms Cornwall suggest that the IAAF do with people whose “atypical or recalcitrant bodies” are “not unequivocally male [or female]”?

EMMA LAUGHTON (Reader)
Dolphin House, Dolphin Street
Colyton
Devon EX24 6NA

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