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By the time they arrive in Beijing, most athletes have resigned themselves to the possibility of undergoing a battery of tests for banned substances, like anabolic steroids and certain cough medicines.
But some female athletes may find they are asked to submit to an entirely different examination - one that will test whether they are, in fact, women.
Organisers of the Beijing Olympics have set up a sex-determination laboratory to evaluate "suspect" female athletes. The lab is similar to ones set up at previous Olympics in Sydney, Australia, and Athens, Greece, and will draw on the resources of the Peking Union Medical College Hospital to evaluate an athlete's external appearance, hormones and genes.
Some medical ethicists have said the practice is too intrusive. "Real people are going to be hurt by this," said Alice Dreger, an associate professor in medical humanities and bioethics at Northwestern University, in the US.
Although only athletes whose gender has been questioned will be tested in Beijing, the lab is a relic of an earlier Olympic era, when every female athlete was required to submit to a sex-veri- fication test before competing in the Games. The tests emerged in the 1960s, when the Soviet Union and other Communist countries were suspected of entering male athletes in women's events to gain an edge.
At first, women were asked to parade nude before a panel of doctors to verify their sex. At the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City, officials switched to a chromosomal test.
The tests never unmasked a man posing as a woman, but they did turn up several athletes who were born with genetic defects that made them appear - according to lab results, at least - to be men. - Reuters