Why are there no platypuses at the Olympics?: A teleological case for athletes with disorders of sexual development to compete within their sex category

  • Nathan Gamble University of Alberta, Faculty of Medicine and Dentistry; London School of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, University of London http://orcid.org/0000-0002-3198-1994
  • Michal Pruski Critical Care Science Team, Oxford Road Site, Manchester University NHS Foundation Trust; School of Healthcare Science, Faculty of Science and Engineering, Manchester Metropolitan University http://orcid.org/0000-0001-7582-1418


In mid-2019, the controversy regarding South African runner Caster Semenya’s eligibility to participate in competitions against other female runners culminated in a Court of Arbitration for Sport judgement. Semenya possessed high endogenous testosterone levels (arguably a performance advantage), secondary to a disorder of sexual development. In this commentary, Aristotelean teleology is used to defend the existence of ‘male’ and ‘female’ as discrete categories. It is argued that once the athlete’s sex is established, they should be allowed to compete in the category of their sex without obligatory medical treatment. Indeed, other athletes who possess advantageous genetic or phenotypic traits that fall outside of the human norm have been allowed to compete as humans without restraint. In both cases, if an athlete possesses the essential attributes of being a human or being male or female they should be permitted to compete in those respective categories; athletes’ eligibilities should not be based upon accidental attributes.

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