Papers of Malcolm Andrew Ferguson-Smith, 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.

This description is part of the main  Malcolm Andrew Ferguson-Smith collection which has been divided into the following sections, each with its own separate description:  

Administrative / Biographical History

Malcolm Andrew Ferguson-Smith (1931- ) is a celebrated geneticist whose work on gene mapping has shaped our understanding of human evolution. Ferguson-Smith graduated MB, ChB in 1955 and was appointed a lecturer in Medical Genetics at the University in 1961. He was promoted to Senior Lecturer in 1965, a Reader in 1971, and Professor of Medical Genetics in 1973. He was also Honorary Consultant in Medical Paediatrics at the Royal Hospital for Sick Children from 1966 and in Clinical Genetics at Yorkhill and Associated Hospitals from 1973 to 1987. In 1987, Ferguson-Smith left Glasgow to become Professor of Pathology and Professorial Fellow at Peterhouse College, Cambridge. He was also Director of the Cambridge University Centre for Medical Genetics from 1989. For a complete biography see the  Malcolm Andrew Ferguson-Smith collection  description.

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.

Conditions Governing Access

Some files in this collection are subject to Data Protection legislation as they contain sensitive information. These records will not be fully accessible to the public until 75 years from the date on each file. However, they may be accessible to bona fide researchers and academics. Please contact the Duty Archivist for advice on how to apply for access to these files. Contact details are as follows: Duty Archivist, Archive Services, University of Glasgow, 13 Thurso Street, Glasgow, G11 6PE.

Alternative Form Available

No known copies

Physical Characteristics and/or Technical Requirements

None which affect the use of this material

Conditions Governing Use

Applications for permission to quote should be sent to the Archivist.

Reproduction subject to usual conditions: educational use and condition of documents

Location of Originals

This material is original

Additional Information

Description compiled in line with the following international standards: International Council on Archives, ISAD(G) Second Edition, September 1999and National Council on Archives, Rules for the construction of personal, place and corporate names

Scotland is the location of all place names in the administrative/biographical history element, unless otherwise stated.

Sub-fonds level description compiled by Gemma Tougher, Assistant Archivist (Cataloguing), September 2010. Lower level description originally compiled by Timothy E Powell, Heather Bird and Simon Coleman from the National Cataloguing Unit for the Archives of Contemporary Scientists, University of Bath, in 2008 and later edited by Gemma Tougher, Assistant Archivist (Cataloguing), October 2010. Catalogue converted into Encoded Archival Description by Gemma Tougher, Assistant Archivist (Cataloguing), October 2010. Catalogue edited by Sam Maddra, Project Manager Glasgow Modern Genetics Wellcome Digital Library, February 2012.