Five and a half years after Santhi Soundararajan was stripped of her Asian Games silver medal in the 800 metres in Doha, another ‘gender issue' has cropped up, this time at home, following the detention of Pinki Paramanik in Kolkata on Thursday on an allegation of rape.
Since there had been an allegation that Paramanik was actually a male, speculation has been rife about the fate of her international medals including the Asian Games gold and the Commonwealth Games silver that Indian 4x400m relay teams won in 2006.
The International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) has already indicated to the Athletics Federation of India (AFI) that there could not be a question of taking the medals away since Paramanik had competed during that time as a female. The final word might not have been said, though, on this issue.
In any case, the AFI cannot strip her of an international medal since that will have to be done by the concerned organisations, the Olympic Council of Asia (OCA) in respect of the Asian Games, and the Commonwealth Games Federation (CGF) in the case of the Commonwealth Games.
There were no gender tests in 2006. In fact the IAAF had discontinued gender tests in 1991 and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) did the same from the Sydney Olympics in 2000.
Till the 1968 Olympics, there were crude methods to verify gender. From 1968 through to the 1990s, the ‘buccal smear' test for sex chromatin (from a scraping of cells from inside the cheek) was in vogue.
Then the IOC shifted to the DNA-based methods of sex determination till finally deciding to discontinue gender tests in 1999.
Debates continued till the IAAF brought out a paper in 2006 which was to later form the basis for a policy statement by the IOC.
The IAAF policy stated that there would be no compulsory gender testing at IAAF-sanctioned events. Instead any problem related to this aspect was to be reported during health checks or dope testing procedures.
If there was a ‘suspicion' or a ‘challenge' then the athlete concerned could be asked to attend a medical evaluation before an expert panel.
Conditions under which abnormalities could be allowed were specified and reconstructive surgery and sex reassignment rules were laid down. The IOC accepted the IAAF position till it brought in a set of new regulations in April last year that would come into force from the London Games.
The Caster Semenya case was very much in focus as these regulations were brought in. The South African middle distance runner, then world champion in 800 metres, was at the centre of a gender controversy after she was barred from competing in 2009. She was allowed to return next year.
The IOC rule, since followed by several international federations including the IAAF, essentially allows a woman “recognised as a female under law” to compete in the women's section provided that her androgen levels are below the male range (measured by reference to testosterone levels).
The IAAF has appointed a pool of international medical experts who could be asked to review any case brought before it. Any athlete who refuses to undergo an evaluation could be barred from competitions.
There is no particular provision to go back and strip athletes of medals if at a later stage it is found out through proper medical examination that an athlete who had competed as a female was actually a male, though international federations have dealt with such issues on a case-by-case basis in the past.
Several experts in the IAAF had long held the view that the best way to determine the gender of an athlete was through physical examination.
Paramanik might have been dope-tested a few times through her short career, and just as no questions were raised, during dope-testing procedures, about Santhi till 2006, the Bengal woman also might have passed scrutiny.