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Canadian cyclist 'paddles' for Santhi

Canadian fights for the rights of disgraced Indian athlete, reports Ajai Masand.
Hindustan Times | By Ajai Masand Ajai Masand Ajai Masand, New Delhi
UPDATED ON OCT 24, 2007 05:14 PM IST

Kristen Worley and Santi Soundarajan have never met. They live continents-apart, Worley in North America, Santhi in India.

But Worley, according to a report in Gaywired, a netzine supporting the cause of gays, is fighting for the cause of Santhi and other victims of Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome (AIS), which results in the external physical characteristics typically associated with women despite having XY chromosomes, and wants the Indian athlete to get her Asian Games silver medal back.

Worley is a Canadian transitioned cyclist who hopes to participate in the 2008 Beijing Olympics and has been accepted, despite a sex change from male to female, as a member of the Canadian women's cycling team.

Santhi, on the other hand, is banished from athletics after failing a highly controversial gender test during the 2006 Doha Asian Games and was recently in the news for her alleged suicide attempt at her native Kattakurichi village in Podukotti last month.

Worley has taken up Santhi's cause and with the International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge and the IOC medical commission to get the Indian athlete the 800m silver medal that the she was forced to hand back to the Olympic Council of Asia after failing the gender test.

The tests were stopped by the IOC before the Sydney Olympics in 2000 after it was proved they were inconclusive because of conditions like androgen insensitivity and many naturally occurring inter-sex variations that make a mockery of the idea of testing for male or femaleness.

In reports published in the Canadian press a few months back, Worley argued that Santhi should never have been subjected to a gender test. "The very reason they stopped sex testing before the Sydney Games was specifically because of the inconsistency, genetically, of a women's makeup," Worley told The Canadian Press, the country's top news agency.

"Chromosomes do not give the actual sex or gender of a person's make up."

Worley said not only should Soundararajan get her medal back, she should have her dignity returned. "This is not her problem, this is an IOC problem," she told the Canadian news agency.

"This is a problem at the highest level of sport and how we deal with ethical issues such as this in sport."

In one of her letters to Rogge written early this year, Worley accused the IOC of creating a "very tragic situation".

"It (Santhi Soundararajan case) should never have been handled in such a gross manner, amounting to public humiliation because of their ignorance of her condition," Worley wrote. "The Olympic movement has been dealing with intersex people since the 1930s. You'd think they would have got the hang of it by now."

The same Canadian Press report also quoted from the protest letter written by Bagger, the first male-to-female golfer to play professionally.

"Why now has this woman been publicly disgraced and humiliated by being labelled as 'a woman who has failed a sex test?

"Not only that, it is reported she is now required to appeal to the IOC Medical Commission to have this decision overturned.

"Santhi Soundararajan has done nothing wrong and she should not be in a position to require a 'sympathetic hearing' from anyone."

Bagger, a Dane, was barred from the professional golf circuit when she had sex-reassignment surgery in 1995, but finally won admission in late 2004.

What is Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome (AIS)?

Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome is a condition that affects the development of the reproductive and genital organs. AIS individuals are genetically male but may have male or female genitalia.

The IOC no longer does genetic testing of athletes but the Olympic Council of Asia (OCA) continues to conduct tests.

The IAAF allows people with AIS to compete with females on the argument they do not have any advantage over others since there is practically no effect of testosterone. Eight athletes with AIS competed as women at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics.

In 2004 the IOC allowed athletes who had undergone sex reassignment to compete in elite level sports.

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