At the tender age of 18, Dutee Chand, a promising young female athlete from Odisha, faced a major crisis. Her fledgling career in athletics, which had started with so much promise, was in jeopardy. Her dreams of participating in the 2014 Commonwealth Games at Glasgow were snatched away from her at the last moment.

No, Chand didn’t fail a dope test. She was barred from competing in athletics for something she had no control over – according to international regulations, her levels of testosterone were higher than the guidelines permitted for female athletes. Supposedly, this gave her an unfair advantage over other female athletes.

Chand had two options – to undergo surgery or to fight the decision. She refused the first option, going on record as saying, “I feel that it’s wrong to have to change your body for sport participation. I’m not changing for anyone.”

And Chand finally won. The Court of Arbitration of Sport ruled in her favour in a judgement delivered on  July 27, saying there was no evidence that she had an unfair advantage over other female athletes due to this condition. Dutee Chand is finally free to compete on the world stage again.

The case of Castor Semenya

The whole furore over hyperandrogenism (an excessive level of androgens in the body) started when Castor Semenya, a South African female athlete, created a flutter in the 2009 World Championships, winning gold in the 800 m race and setting the fastest time of the year. Her impressive performance raised eyebrows – the International Association of Athletics Federations claimed it was “obliged to investigate” and asked her to undergo a gender test.

Semenya did take a gender test but she was forced to stay out of athletics for a year, as the results of her gender test remained unrevealed. In was only in 2010 that the IAAF cleared Semenya to return to international athletics – interestingly, they did not release her gender test results, claiming privacy reasons.

Later on, in 2011, the IAAF came out with new rules and regulations to address the issue. These rules stipulated that females with hyperandrogenism would only be permitted to compete in women’s athletic competitions if their androgen levels were below the male range or if they had androgen resistance, which meant they derived no competitive advantage from the condition.

It was these rules and regulations that Chand challenged and took to the CAS, which has ruled in her favour.

“In the absence of such evidence, the CAS Panel was unable to conclude that hyperandrogenic female athletes may benefit from such a significant performance advantage that it is necessary to exclude them from competing in the female category,” the court’s interim ruling said. The court also gave the IAAF time till July 24, 2017 to provide new scientific evidence supporting their claims. If new evidence is not provided, then their rules and regulations will be declared null and void.

A victory for all female athletes

The CAS’s rule has come as a massive boost for Chand who looks forward to finally resuming her career – she admits, that at times, it was “heartbreaking”, but she is happy now that she is finally free to pursue her passion for athletics. The Olympics next year is in her sights but she prefers to stay grounded, preferring to look at the next five years.

Chand’s case was also helped by another factor – the Sports Authority of India completely stood by her during her time of crisis and fully backed her decision to take up the matter with the CAS. They offered her the choice of medical intervention as well as the option of accommodation at NIS Patiala. Researcher and activist Payoshni Mitra, who works on gender issues in sports, spearheaded the campaign for Chand.

As Mitra argued in an interview, "Using the same logic, the IOC and the IAAF should provide a level playing field to male athletes like Yohan Blake,Asafa Powell and Tyson Gay and therefore should either ban Usain Bolt from competing, or recommend that he will only be eligible to play when he cuts his legs off a few inches so that he does not have any unfair advantage on the basis of his height or long strides!"

CAS’s ruling comes not just as a boon for Dutee Chand, but for all female athletes all over the world who face discrimination for no fault of their own. As what happened with Semenya, their femininity is often called into question, resulting in serious invasions of privacy. This ruling should go a long way in alleviating such issues.