Banned Chand confident of return to athletics
Banned Chand confident of return to athletics
Oct. 30, 2014
NEW DELHI (AP) — Dutee Chand's plan of completing construction of a concrete house for her parents has been put on hold. Moving out of a one-room mud hut in their village in the southeastern state of Orissa had been a long-time ambition, but priorities changed once the talented young sprinter was barred from competing.
The 18-year-old Chand was suspended due to hyperandrogenism — or the presence of high levels of testosterone in the body — making her ineligible for competition under International Association of Athletics Federation rules.
But she is fighting the ban in the international Court of Arbitration for Sport, believing it unfairly discriminates against her. A few months before her appeal goes to the CAS, she still desperately wants to return to competition.
"To be suddenly told that my natural state does not fit and that I cannot compete the way I am was a big shock," Chand said, recalling the day she received news of the suspension in July. "I cried for days."
She had just returned from winning two gold medals at the Asian junior track and field championship and was looking forward to representing India at the world junior championships and the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, Scotland.
"I was dropped from the team," she said. "I was shattered."
The IAAF introduced rules in 2011, requiring female athletes with excessive levels of male hormones to get a medical clearance to compete in women's events. That meant women with hyperandrogenism are eligible to compete in female competition if their androgen levels are below the men's range or, if within the male range, they have an androgen resistance which means they derive no competitive advantage.
Chand's options back in July were confronting. She apparently had the choice of giving up athletics or undergoing the medical treatment.
That was until she was guided toward a third option by sports and gender activist Payoshni Mitra.
"She was originally given two options, either stop competing or if she still wanted to compete, she was asked to undergo medical intervention, which may mean prolonged hormone therapy or surgery and then compete," Mitra told The Associated Press. "No one was talking about the third option. I made sure she knew that there was a third option — an appeal, the legal recourse."
Mitra was convinced that was the right course of action after consulting several international scholars and advocates, including Professor Bruce Kidd of the University of Toronto and Dr. Katrina Karkazis of Stanford University.
Mitra has counseled Indian athletes in similar cases, including Santhi Soundarajan and Pinki Pramanik, and believes the regulations are unfair and unwarranted.
"Sports celebrate human diversity, regardless of inherent natural characteristics," Mitra said. "Such a policy is discriminatory and contrary to the very spirit of sports. Moreover, the regulations have been previously questioned from scientific, ethical and medical perspectives.
"The regulations require athletes like Dutee who wish to remain eligible for competition to undergo interventions consisting of drugs or surgery that have potentially serious side effects and health risks."
Previous appeals have had some success.
Sounderajan was stripped of her silver medal in the 800 meters from the 2006 Asian Games in Doha for failing a gender test, and suffered emotionally and psychologically as a result. But she was subsequently allowed to complete a coaching course, and that made her able to earn a livelihood from athletics.
Pramanik, a relay gold medalist at the Asian Games, faced humiliating gender tests in 2012 when she was jailed for nearly a month after a woman alleged rape. Pramanik was cleared of the charges by a court only last month.
"I have seen both these athletes very closely and I can tell you that each of them had shown tremendous inner strength to be able to overcome scrutiny and public humiliation," Mitra said. "At 18, Dutee seems to me a very strong young woman. She has the signs of a true champion."
But Mitra said this case was different, because it involved an athlete yet to peak in her career.
"Much is at stake," Mitra said. "This case holds the possibility of a change in a policy which may have a very positive impact on women's sports at large, apart from allowing Dutee to compete again. The implications are huge."
Chand's appeal could go to the CAS early next year, and Mitra is confident of a favorable verdict.
"We have a strong case. We anticipate the IAAF will welcome a comprehensive, independent medical and legal review of the regulation before the CAS so that it can be determined if this is an appropriate policy to impose on athletes," she said.
Chand's case is similar to that of high-profile South African 800-meter runner Caster Semenya, who was sidelined from competition for almost a year after winning the 2009 world championship at age 18. Semenya was eventually cleared by the IAAF to return to competition, and won a silver medal at the 2012 London Olympics.
Chand, who has five sisters and a brother, is confident she'll be allowed to return to competition, too, and is hopeful that the emotional hurt that she and her family has experienced won't linger if she can get back on the track.
"When someone has done something wrong, one worries about bracing up to face the society. I have not done anything wrong," she said. "I know that and keep my head high."
And she's hopeful of achieving much greater things before she retires.
"I want my younger sisters to have a good life. But that is not why I run. I run to win medals for my country and to make my country proud of me," she said, adding that she wanted to have the same kind of fame as Dhyan Chand, the legendary Indian field hockey player of the 1920s and 30s. "Even after his death, people remember him."