“I want to remain who I am and compete again," Dutee Chand said less than two years ago, setting in motion a chain of events that saw her getting banned as an athlete, becoming the cause célèbre of a gender struggle, winning a case against the International Amateur Athletic Federation (Iaaf) and now, in a happy conclusion to the tale, becoming the first Indian woman to qualify for a sprint event at the Olympics.

On 25 June, Chand won the silver in the women’s 100m sprint at the Kosonov Memorial International Athletic Meet in Almaty, Kazakhstan, clocking in at 11.24 seconds, well within the Olympic qualifying standard of 11.32 seconds.

Along the way, she broke the national record in 100m twice.

“It really is a wonderful feeling," Chand said over the phone from Almaty. “In 2014, I was confused and depressed. I had been thrown out of the national camp. I was being taunted and shamed. And now I’m going to the Olympics. It’s amazing."

The first thing Chand did after winning the race was to send a WhatsApp message to her sister, Saraswati, in Bhubaneswar, Odisha.

“Olympic ke liye qualify hua," the message said. Saraswati, who was a national-level sprinter before she settled into a police job, sent the news to her parents in Chaka Gopalpur, a village that is a 2-hour drive from Bhubaneswar. When she finished her shift, she rode her scooter back to her village to join in the celebrations.

It was also a day of redemption for Chand’s coach, Nagpuri Ramesh, who had worked tirelessly to train her and get her ready for a shot at Olympic qualification, even as the athlete went through her ordeal and found it impossible to rejoin the national camp for Olympic hopefuls.

“It was a long fight," Ramesh says, “but I always knew that we would get the results, that we will win. Dutee is special. Most athletes I know would have quit if they had to go through what she went through."

Chand’s story is an extraordinary one in the history of Indian sports, not just because it brought down a global rule that has formed the basis of gender testing in sports since 2011, but also because it brought together the Athletics Federation of India, the Sports Authority of India (SAI), India’s sports ministry, gender and sports activists, former athletes and coaches, and a private sports management company to fight for a common cause.

Chand is the third of seven children born to a family of weavers. When Chand was born, her parents lived below the poverty line, earning less than 3,000 a month. For the family, sports was their way out of poverty. By the time Chand was 10, her elder sister Saraswati was already a national-level athlete. Chand too got her break—she won a sports scholarship to a government school in Bhubaneshwar. At 17, Chand was setting records on the track. That year (2013), she became the first Indian to reach the final of an international 100m event, at the Iaaf World Youth Championships. Then she became the senior national champion in 100m and 200m. The next year, in June, Chand won two gold medals at the Asian Junior Championships in Taipei, Taiwan—again a first for an Indian athlete.

She was on the radar for a senior international debut at the 2014 Commonwealth Games in July. On 12 July, acting on an anonymous complaint filed at the Asian Junior Championships, the Athletics Federation of India conducted a series of tests on her without informing her what this was for. She was told that she was banned from competing and asked to leave the national camp.

It was only a few days later that a dejected Chand, sitting at home in Odisha, saw on TV that she had failed a “gender test".

What Chand has is a condition called hyperandrogenism—her body produces a larger amount of the androgen hormone testosterone than the average woman. She was barred from competing because Iaaf, the governing body for world athletics, introduced a rule in 2011 that stated that women who naturally produce testosterone at levels usually seen in men would be ineligible to compete as women. Just before the 2012 Olympics in London, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) also adopted the rule.

Athletes who had hyperandrogenism had two options: Quit sports, or undergo a medical intervention involving surgery and long-term hormone-replacement therapy to lower the androgen levels.

Chand took the third option. She decided to challenge the ruling at the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) in Lausanne, Switzerland.

“What I have is natural," she told Mint Lounge at the time. “I have not doped. I don’t deserve the ban. This should never happen to another girl again."

Multiple cases of hyperandrogenism have come to light since the ruling came into effect in 2011, but no athlete has ever taken this step. These tests and their results are meant to be confidential, and athletes, fearing social shame and an end to their careers, quietly accept secretive medical intervention.

Chand’s act of defiance found support in Kolkata-based gender activist Payoshni Mitra, who convinced SAI, helmed at the time by Jiji Thomson, to fight for Chand. They brought together an international group of scientists, former athletes and bioethicists, including Canadian Olympian and author Bruce Kidd, one of the world’s leading activists for equality in sports, and medical anthropologist and author Katrina Karkazis from the Center for Biomedical Ethics at Stanford University, US. A Canadian law firm, Davies Ward Phillips & Vineberg LLP, took up her case, pro bono.

“I marvel at Dutee’s courage and strength," Karkazis wrote in an email to Mint Lounge when the case began. “The pressure on athletes to remain eligible is extraordinary. Their sports career is the livelihood for their family. It is very hard to challenge this policy because it requires an interruption to one’s career, and the toll that can take is huge."

The history of athletes whose gender has been questioned is a long and painful one. Gender screening goes back to the 1936 Olympics, but became mandatory in 1966. Back then, female athletes were required to drop their pants and have their genitals tested. Two years later, amid outrage over the “nude parades", the IOC switched to a DNA test.

It was simple—men have XY chromosomes and women have XX. But it was opposed from the beginning by the scientific community, which pointed out that all kinds of variants are naturally found in chromosomes, and the XX/XY binary is not supported by science. By 1990, chromosome testing had been dropped, but not before it had destroyed the careers of many sportswomen.

Then the IOC adopted a process that relied on a group of experts—an endocrinologist, a gynaecologist, a psychologist and a geneticist—to reach a consensus. In 2009, the South African 800m runner Caster Semenya was subjected to this process, and to intense and humiliating scrutiny. Backed by the South African government, Semenya too fought the ban and was eventually reinstated a year later. The consensus method was dropped, and the hyperandrogenism test was adopted, with the important rhetorical qualifier that this was not a “gender" test but simply a test for elevated androgen hormones.

When Chand challenged the hyperandrogenism ruling, she was asking an implicit question: Why do women athletes need to be tested for eligibility at all?

Men and women both produce testosterone, but men typically have more than 10 times the amount in their body. The use of synthetic testosterone has been clinically proven to boost muscle growth and explosive power, and aid recovery from physical activity. Using synthetic testosterone is simply seen as doping, and there is agreement in the scientific and sporting community that this should not be permitted.

Naturally produced testosterone, on the other hand, is a completely different ball game. It is neither an external, nor an artificial, aid. There is also no consensus on the degree to which testosterone produced by the body aids athletes.

A large-scale 2009 study on elite athletes, a project co-funded by the IOC, found a significant overlap in testosterone values in men and women. Around 5% of the women tested in the “male range", and 8% had levels above the “female range". Even more tellingly, 25% of the men, including some Olympic medallists, were below the “male range", with a large number testing in the “female range".

“There is no stigma for men who are strong and fast," says Karkazis. “There are no tests for men to weed out those who produce more testosterone than other men. Why not?"

The hyperandrogenism rule was unique in the sporting world for being the only policy that prohibits a natural phenomenon.

On 25 July 2015, in a landmark ruling, CAS overturned Chand’s ban and suspended the hyperandrogenism rule, giving Iaaf two years to come up with scientific evidence to support such a ruling.

But even before the ban was lifted, Ramesh, who coached at the national training camp run by SAI in Patiala, Punjab, had called Chand with a proposal: to shift to Hyderabad, where Ramesh was now posted, and continue training.

Chand had faced harassment in Patiala when news of her ban became public and did not want to go back to a similar situation at a SAI hostel in Hyderabad. Also, she was not part of the national squad any more and had stopped receiving funds.

Ramesh spoke to India’s national badminton coach, Pullela Gopi Chand, who runs the Gopichand Badminton Academy in Hyderabad. He agreed to keep Chand and Ramesh at the academy, with free access to the facilities. This is where Chand and Ramesh went into hyperdrive with their training, trying to make up for lost time.

“Without Gopi Sir’s help, I could not have continued training," says Chand. “And every one thought we were related—Dutee Chand and Gopi Chand," she laughs.

When the ban was lifted, SAI did not insist that Chand rejoin the national camp—in a rare decision, it allowed Chand and Ramesh to work on their own plan at the Gopichand academy.

Anglian Medal Hunt, a sports management company that represents Chand, also stood by her through the entire process and helped with gaps in funding.

“She’s the toughest athlete I know mentally," says Maneesh Bahuguna, the chief executive officer of Anglian. “And she is still only 20, so she has a long career to look forward to."

The next step for Chand is to go and train at the IMG Academy in Florida, US, one of the world’s foremost sports training centres, from early July, and stay there till she has to leave for Rio de Janeiro in August.

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