Material relating to gender verification in sport

Scope and Content

Includes correspondence with the British Olympic Committee about tests for the competitors for the 1970 Edinburgh Commonwealth Games, but the bulk relates to his service on the International Amateur Atheletic Federation's Working Group on Gender Verification, 1991-1999. The material includes correspondence (including many faxes) with members of the Working Group and others, briefing documents, drafts of artcicles for publication and background information.

Administrative / Biographical History

In 1960 the International Amateur Athletic Federation (IAAF), followed by the International Olympic Committee (IOC), called for rules of eligibility for women to ensure athletics were competing on an equal basis in terms of physical status. In 1966 a physical test was introduced for the European and Commonwealth games, repeated at the 1967 Pan-American games. This led to widespread resentment and the IOC proposed the sex chromatin test as a more acceptable method. Sex chromatin testing using buccal smears was introduced in 1968 for the Mexico Olympic Games that year. Ferguson-Smith was approached by the British Olympic Committee in 1969 to administer the tests for competitors for the 1970 Edinburgh Commonwealth Games. He declined, arguing that the sex chromatin (buccal smear) test would be more likely to unfairly exclude athletes than detect cheats. His view was that all sex-testing in international sport should be abolished as demeaning to women, unreliable and in a few cases positively psychologically harmful.

The buccal smear test was challenged again in the 1980s and in 1988 the IOC Medical Commission set up a Working Group on Gender Verification. It held a meeting in 1988 but its second meeting, scheduled for 1989, was cancelled. In November 1990 a workshop called by the International Athletics Foundation on Approved Methods of Femininity Verification was held at Monte Carlo. Its recommendations included a call to end genetics-based gender verification and replace it with a health test for all athletes. The International Amateur Athletic Federation adopted its recommendations in January 1991 and the IAAF set up a Working Group on Gender Verification comprising some of the participants in the earlier workshop.

Ferguson-Smith served on this Working Group, which became known to its members as "the fax club" after the usual method of communication between members. Members included Professor Arne Ljungqvist (Chairman of the Medical Committee of the IAAF), Dr Elizabeth A Ferris (a sports physician), Alison S Carlson (a former athlete) and Professor Joe Leigh Simpson. It published articles and lobbied the IOC and professional associations and medical societies. It met with gradual success until in 1999 the IOC abandoned genetics based testing for the Sydney Olympics.


Files are arranged in chronological order.

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