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'IOC is the biggest threat to future of global sport'

IOC ant the media perpetuate the ignorance for their own vested financial interests, at the risk of athlete's life, writes Kriesten Worley.

india Updated: Oct 30, 2007 22:11 IST
Ajai Masand

Kristen Worley

Q: The IOC stopped gender testing after the 2000 Sydney Olympics, then why didn't it ensure that it was also banned by the continental sports bodies like the Olympic Council of Asia (OCA) and the likes? Is it laxity on the part of the IOC or the IOC itself is not sure what to do and what not to do?

Kristen: The IOC said they stopped sex testing, Canadian Academy of Sports Medicine (CASM) played in an integral part in their decision, for the very reason of the diversity of women's gender make-ups, and the invasiveness of the IOC Medical Commissions process, which was assumed to "protect" sport (Go to http://www.casm-acms.org/forms/statements/GendereVerifEng.pdf).

The "gender parade" was one of the practices the IOC Medical Commission utilised until 2000, at international games or Olympics, in which women athletes had to parade naked in front of IOC Medical Commission members, assuring all females possessed the "sex" characteristics of being female. Historically, since the 30's, the IOC used chromosome testing, as a method to test for a person's sex. The level of variances in the female phenotype and inter-sex medical issues, which are "normal" birth issues, are well documented. Santhi is yet another victim among dozens of women who have been turned away from elite sporting events because of chromosomal variations. Many women --- and men --- never know they are inter-sexed or otherwise have "assumed abnormal" chromosomal make-up, unless they encounter developmental problems, are tested when considering to conceive a child (in the case of difficult conception), or, as only women do, learn publicly at an elite sporting event, such as the Asian games or Olympics. Men, interestingly, are spared this indignity.

This is a social condition, and a failure of society --- the IOC, OCA and IAAF --- clearly demonstrate how large the problem is, and that such large institutions are so ignorant knowing how wrong they are. Where now, we're seeing the IOC, OCA and IAAF trying to wash their hands of it. Where is IOC Medical Commisssion director, Dr. Arne Ljungqvist, who said to the media at the time, that he would be personally investigating this case?

When he knew, in 1996, (8) athletes with AIS competed under the radar at the Atlanta Olympic Games, why is he not addressing this now? The world media, when Santhi's case was leaked to the press, committed yet another enormous violation on behalf of the OCA and IAAF, by presenting Santhi as a "boy," a cheater, and even worse, said, "she deserved it….". That is just sick.

As I indicated to sport leaders here in Canada and to the IOC, this was a gross abuse and doing nothing when we know we can do better is just plain wrong. I was at my national track cycling championships when I checked my email, learning Santhi tried to take her life. That had an enormous impact on me, and only furthered my resolve to protect her and other athletes like her. I was at my nationals, and in the evening, between events, I was on email contacting sport leaders and colleagues to tell them of this terrible event.

I wrote to Jacques Rogge in Lausanne, and told him that this young women's life is in his hands and his responsibility. This is gender policy gone bad…and clearly shows what and will happen if this is not stopped once and for all.

The IOC knows what to do, and have all the information they need. The problem is about corporate image and the billions of dollars they receive annually. From what I have learned in speaking with them in conference calls, they have an astounding level of arrogance and see themselves above the laws of the rest of global society with no concern for others, nor accountability. We have seen this historically with IOC business, this is no different. This is all about the old boys' network --- and "god forbid, a few women athletes are going to tell us what to do."

The Stockholm Consensus presented in 2004, pre-Athens, regarding transitioned athletes, was yet another example of this. It was a policy with no support of research, science or due process. But a policy designed to expose transitioned athletes, and to ensure to make sport participation, and possible Olympic participation, even harder. In other words, "were going to make this really hard for you, so don't show up. God forbid, we should have these freaks of nature competing at our games…".

This is all about brand and money ---- I cannot stress this enough. You can use the recent Marion Jones case, which has gone on for (7) years, but cycling, hockey, baseball and other sports re: doping infractions are in the public's hands within months or sooner, and the IOC and WADA are all over it. But when it hit home, re: Marion Jones, delay, delay --- (7) years delay, as it affects the world's and corporate view of the validity of the Olympic games. Which in parallel we saw how damaging it was for the Tour de France.

Again, all about money, image and brand! The IOC knows better, they have the information, they sit on it, because it is not in their best interest. It directly impacts their bottom-line. They're happy to do it to others, costing millions, but when doping runs rampant in the games, "shut it down"… and shove it under the carpet as quickly as possible.

This is what happened to Santhi; again, this is where the problem lies: there is no accountability. Again too, this has affected all women, and women's participation in sport. Same battle ground, different issue.

Q: Is there still any ambiguity in the minds of the IOC top bosses regarding the issue and how do you feel about this discrepancy especially when medical science has proved to the contrary?

Kristen: Again, this is clearly driven by self-motivation, money, image and brand. These guys know the issues, and have been caught with the facts, and admittedly on a conference call, Dr. Patrick Schamasch, stated he did not have the science/research needed to be applied to Stockholm Consensus policy. Thus continuing arrogantly, "I don't care, I have 5000 athletes I have to protect and take care of …". In return I said, " Protect them from what, when you don't event have the science or research in the first place, and knowing how disadvantaged the athletes are?". He then asked me for the science and research. And I responded, "Well wasn't that your job in the first place…".

He said then, when asked about sex testing, "Kristen, we told the world we stopped sex testing pre-2000, but we still do it…". He said, "I can do whatever I want…. Kristen, you come to 2008 games, you play by my rules…".

The ambiguity is not with the athletes, but the leadership of sport. It is a situation, of some people having it good for way too long, with lots of money and no accountability. Dr. Schamasch said, "We're all about the games, and we cannot control what other sports or international bodies decide and how they use our policies…". He ignores the IOC's global influence and role in sport. The IOC is pushing it off to others, taking no responsibility for anything they do, unless it impacts them or the Olympic brand financially. Moral issues are thrown out the window, unless it works in their interest.

This has nothing to do with what is right, and how their actions potentially affect an individual athlete or our global society. As I continue to say, "the biggest threat and to the future of global sport is the IOC itself…".

Q: How do women athletes react when a transitioned athlete participates in an event? Is their any kind of bias/discrimination among officials, media and athletes towards transitioned athletes? How many times have you heard that you are getting an unfair advantage?

Kristen: First of all, it should not be public knowledge a transitioned athlete is competing in a specific group or event. Ms. Mianne Bagger (professional golfer), Mr. Jamison Green (author, educator, activist and policy consultant specializing in transgender and transsexual issues) and I have worked incredibly hard to educate the sport community and government from top to bottom, literally creating a new language. I have never been called anything negative, just a woman athlete, courageous athlete etc… It is the media we struggle with, where the second line in the article is usually, "sex reassignment surgery" to sell the article or get reaction from readers. The funny thing is that here in Canadian sport, this is no issue. The media gets frustrated when they call (us) and we say were just women in sport. They get all worked up, as they can't write about anything else other than being a woman athlete.

Typically they comment, "We need to do this, as people will get confused if we don't…" I say "Huh, why is this so hard, I am a woman athlete in sport, I have a family and career job like anyone else. Normal as normal can be… ." Do you publicise everyone's medical history? I don't think so!

But they have to throw a one-liner in, as an example: "sex reassignment surgery," to create controversy where there need be no controversy. Like the IOC, they are looking for and creating something that doesn't exist. It is their own social fear and ignorance getting in the way of the truth of gender variance in our global society. That is the threat, and it is the IOC and the media who perpetuate the ignorance for their own vested financial interests, at the risk of athletes lives, as Santhi's case shows.

Santhi, like many athletes, is a victim of this practice well known in sport circle. But as long as the money flows, everyone keeps going and washes their hands of incidents that have ruined an athlete's life and career, thinking the world has forgotten. But this particular issue is different as this is not just an issue in elite sport about our society as a whole. This is just another manifestation of the greater social problem that exists. We know that fewer than 1:1000 children born are gender variant or inter-sexed at birth. So in a population of India of 1,129,866,154 people, over 1.2 million people are affected in India along. This is just one country.

Using these simple numbers, Santhi in her own county, is certainly not alone. This emphasises the greater social problem and understanding the normality's of gender variance and inter-sexed conditions and how prevalent they are within every population.

Q: Europe, Canada and the US are developed societies so they understand the issue, but there is a big stigma in counties like India because of ignorance of the people? What do you feel should be done to create awareness?

Kristen: Europe, Canada and Australia are certainly leading the way - The US is catching up, but because of demanding healthcare demands in the US and constitutional structure, has created barriers and delays in the US. Where in other countries, have universial healthcare and defined human rights legislation and protections for ALL women and men in our countries.

Obviously in every country, religion plays a major influence, some more then others --- It is unfortunate, as the issues of gender are physiological issues, where people are born with these variances. The barrier is the social barrier, and a lot of the damage and misguidance historically has been done, too, by non-medical experts, who are social scientists who like the IOC call themselves professionals, scientists and doctors without medical background and again accountability, who are projecting their biased social opinions and not applying science to their research. Like most of society, which has difficulty discussing issues of gender and sex, groups and individuals like this profit by publishing their pseudo-research, feeding on people's fears. And because of public ignorance, fears of abnormality or phobias about sex, which in both cases has nothing to do with it, have penetrated and misguided our social fabric.

The best way to resolve this is with clear education and research. And by utilising sport and the Olympic Movement, we can broaden the brush to countries around the world, providing a global understanding, and not just in pockets around the world. There are many people suffering, and this is the power of sport and its social impact. Something our friends in Lausanne need to grasp, and stop filling their pockets instead.

Q: Do you thing the national sports federation of India (Indian Olympic Association) or the Olympic Council of Asia (OCA) have not handled the matter properly because of their ignorance of the issue?

Kristen: Certainly they have not. They violated the basic rights of the athlete and athlete code, by taking Santhi's case public. That is an enormous violation, and one that they should be legally charged for. No person's medical information is anyone's business other than their own. As well, the IOC and OCA are no different than the other 245 Olympic-affiliated bodies around the world. Everyone has the same information. There was no reason for them to have ever done this, and done this in such a bad way, as they chose to sex test Santhi.

What's always interesting: Olympic sport is always asking for complete transparency and accountability from an athlete, but they are unprepared to do that themselves…. So what's fair? It should be completely transparent on both sides of the fence. Their organisations should be legally and publicly accountable for what they did. In the corporate world or government, if this were to happen to an employee, the company would be charged. Why, then, is sport any different.

Q: As you can see, there is a common theme playing out. How should an athlete cope with the stigma, especially as has happened in the case of Santhi, when the entire sports fraternity turned against her?

Kristen: As I said above, the organisations should be charged with a human rights violation and reprimanded…. As I have experienced, thorough education is the key. As Santhi knows, because of the ignorance you're starting off from a difficult position to fight it and to win people onto your side and carry your cause forward. Organisations like the IOC, OCA and others, know this and use this to their advantage, knowing the athlete has few resources. Using the IOC as an example, they are a multi-billion dollar corporation. But what we have done, since they did not have the science and research, we found a hole in their assumed impenetrable wall that they hide behind. And as we have found, you can't beat science, so they can't fight it on a medical level that they have failed to provide. So now it becomes a clear ethical issue at the highest level of global sport.

It takes a lot of effort by many, and Santhi on her own would find it very hard to do. But collectively with other women -- and educated men -- around the world, it can be a different story, as Santhi is one of many stories that empower us to continue and to illustrate the abuse from elite levels of sport towards women, with little to no regard for our human dignity. Santhi is no longer alone. Never was, but she never knew a campaign was going on like this for the last several years, and that many people have become further engaged since her incident last December.

Q: How long do you think it will take for the tide to turn, especially when you people are putting in so much of effort?

Kristen: I certainly feel we are on the cusp of a very big change… The Canadian government has approved a financial package on research and education regarding gender variance/inter-sexed conditions in sport and outward to society. We're the first country in the world to do this, and this is through extensive education and meetings with experts. Santhi's incident emphasized the scale of the problem, and the levels of victimization in global sport and society as a whole. Canada is hosting the 2010 Winter Olympic games and wants to show the world by 2010 that we are the most inclusive country in the world. It is actually part of VANOC's direct mandate for the games.

It gives us here in Canada an influence with the IOC, as well, since our federal government is funding a large proportion of the games' infrastructure. The IOC cannot ignore us, as too many of the same people that are influential in 2010, are also engaged in this development and are extremely concerned about what has happened. The goal is to make sport better for all.

Q: Are your efforts complemented by the efforts of people in other countries as well? Is there some kind of networking or newsletter by which you spread the word?

Kristen: The Internet has been a great tool for this. I know many athletes and professionals around the effected by this. If the Internet and the media system we have did not exist as it does, these guys and organisations would get away with what they are doing and being accountable to no one. I think this is key, technology is changing society, and where once you felt alone being gender variant or inter-sexed, thus presumed "uncommon." Well, you realise there are millions of people just like you around the world. You are no longer isolated and abnormal, but, in fact, you are normal and unique, just like everyone else.

Key for Santhi to understand is that she is not alone, and that she, too, is normal…It is society's social sickness of misunderstanding the concept of normal, and what it looks like and who are we as a society to define what is normal or not, and that someone is not less of a person because of a assumed difference grounded in ignorance….

The great thing about technology, where years ago we were unable to do this and had to go through several corporate levels to get to someone if at all. We now can get to heads of state and the IOC directly. They have relied on their old means of business communications, and are challenged when people are literally on their doorstep and knocking hard to derive change and calling them directly in principle on what they are doing. As well, I am invited to sport and medical conferences to speak at.

Q: Do you have symposiums/meetings where you invite top athletes, IOC officials and make them aware of the whole issue?

Kristen: Yes continually. I do 5 or 6 symposiums a year now.

As told to Ajai Masand