Sex Verification in Sports: Ewa Klobukowska & Caster Semanya Cases

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Ewa Klobukowska is a former Polish world-class sprinter, who today is mostly known not for her accomplishments, but for a different reason entirely.

The year is 1967 and the European Cup women’s track and field competition in Kiev is about to begin. During that time, the relations between the USA and the USSR are intense due to the Cold War. The two superpowers had many differences in their ideologies in almost every field from politics to sexes. In the USA the female portrait was the devoted housewife, while in the Soviet Union was completely different women were dynamic and had to work. Both countries were trying to discredit each other in any way possible. For example, the USA thought that the Soviets were manipulating the bodies of their female athletes to gain some advantage in the competitions. For this reason the gender test was introduced.

In order to pass that test, doctors and experts had to check the athletes’ genitals among other things. Ewa Klobukowska passed that test, but failed to pass the evolution of that test, the so-called “sex chromatia test.” Klobukowska was the first athlete in history to fail that test and after that she was considered a hermaphrodite due to a chromosome that was found to be different from usual and normal female’s chromosomes.

Despite these negative results, the Polish Federation sent the athlete to Kiev to compete and this action was triggered a hideous response from the European Association, which published her test results. From that point forward, Ewa Klobukowska was seen as a freak and was bombarded by the Western media in an attempt to discredit the Soviet regime. What is important to note here is that the athlete was not aware of all these political games that were taking place behind her back.

The result for Klobukowska was to disappear from the field of sports. Also IAAF in 1969 removed her world record from the books.

Furthermore, the gender test was abolished in 1999, but there is one more case of an intersexual athlete, Caster Semanya from South Africa. In 2009 after winning the gold medal in the 800 meters, Semanya had been subjected to gender testing. The results showed that Semanya, like Klobukowska, was an intersexual. The South African Federation knew about this and sent the athlete to compete anyway, a decision that led to her banishment from the competition.

The question to ask now is “did anything change since 1967?” Unfortunately the answer is no, athletes are just pawns on the board of politics, like Klobukowska and Semanya.

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