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Gender, sports issues to be explored at Florida International University conference

By LUISA YANEZ, lyanez@MiamiHerald.com

A female athlete wins an Olympic gold medal, but later a sexual verification test detects she has the testosterone levels of a man.

What action does the International Olympic Committee take?

Two faculty members from Florida International University's new medical school will help set the framework on how to tackle such cases in future elite international athletic competitions.

Genetics professors Joe Leigh Simpson and Maria New from FIU's Wertheim College of Medicine are hosting the groundbreaking second annual World Conference on Genetic and Hormonal Basis of Sexual Differentiation Disorders on Jan. 15-18 at Miami Beach's Eden Roc Hotel.

The conference brings together scientists and physicians who deal with sex differentiation disorders, including hormone issues, genetics and sexual psychology.

SCIENCE, ETHICS

A roundtable of experts will address the specific problems of assigning sexual identification, looking at both the science and ethics.

The discovery that an athlete's sexual designation is in question is a touchy matter.

If determined that it's a deception aimed at winning, swift disqualification usually follows. But when the gender results are borderline and a surprise to the athlete, serious privacy issues arise.

``The results can have a devastating impact on the lives of the athletes involved,'' said Simpson, an FIU medical school professor and a member of a Gender Verification Group for the International Olympic Committee.

``There is an obligation of fairness as well as an obligation to delineate correct processes for treating individuals with these disorders.''

Conclusions reached at the conference will provide information that will help the Olympic Committee and the International Amateur Athletic Federation establish procedures for resolving gender controversies involving athletes.

Sex differentiation disorders were in the spotlight recently. In August, South African runner Caster Semenya won the IAAF world championship in the women's 800 meter races held in Berlin.

GENDER QUESTIONS

After her victory, questions arose over her gender when a test revealed that her testosterone levels exceeded that of an average woman.

Semenya was ultimately allowed to keep her medal, but the IAAF admitted its threshold for when a female is considered ineligible to compete as a woman is unclear.

That may change soon. Following the January conference, a closed meeting will be held by 15 to 20 scientists and sports federation physicians.

At the meeting, the procedures for addressing controversies will be detailed and clinical needs identified, FIU said.

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