Gender, Race, Sexuality and Human Rights in the Context of Sport

GHJP has undertaken two separate but related projects using human rights principles, practices and structures to facilitate justice and equity in the context of sport each with a focus on analyzing how gender and sexuality intersect with race and place, among other structural conditions that give rise to the harm, and which must be attended to, in structuring any meaningful responses to prevent and redress harm.

Gender, rights, race and sport 

Developed in conjunction with GHJP Senior Visiting Fellow Katrina Karkazis, PhD, this project focuses on the intersections of race and gender in sport, with particular attention to the way that the current female eligibility at the global level trigger invasive and discriminatory policies and practices felt primarily by athletes from the global south (esp. athletes from Africa and South Asia). 

GHJP sponsored an Interdisciplinary Conversation on Gender, Rights, Race and Sport at YLS in October 2019 which drew on extensive research by Karkazis examining the covert operation of race and region in a regulation restricting the natural levels of testosterone in women athletes. addressing directly the role that the ‘mystique of testosterone’ plays in athletics as well as other gendering regimes, particularly in regard women with naturally occurring high testosterone.

When the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) was preparing its response to a 2019 Human Rights Council Resolution 40/5 on the “intersection of intersection of race and gender discrimination in sports, including in policies, regulations and practices of sporting bodies” which called for directly addressed the discriminatory impact of eligibility regulations on women with particular variations in sex characteristics, the Office turned to GHJP Co-Director Miller, along with medical anthropologist and GHJP Fellow Katrina Karkazis and international law, gender, and global sport governance expert Michele Krech J.D., LLM and MA, for research support: the three submitted significant research and analysis to the OHCHR, which presented its report to the 44th Human Rights Council” in June 2020.

In 2021, the GHJP co-authored a submission with the World Medical Association in support of Caster Semenya’s challenge in the European Court of Human Rights to the gender eligibility regulations for the participation of athletes with differences of sex development in the sport of Athletics. The joint brief argues that the eligibility regulations approved by World Athletics create ethical conflicts for sports physicians that threaten the patient-physician relationship, and engender the violation of fundamental principles and obligations of medical ethics and human rights. The regulations unfairly leave athletes with the coerced “choice” to either submit to physical assessments, consult with physicians, and undergo unnecessary medical interventions with the potential for serious side effects, or give up their livelihood.

One of the key contributions of the brief is to examine ethical obligations of autonomy, beneficence, non-maleficence, and justice with regard to rights violations and the intersecting discriminations across race, place and gender, in particular, revealing that under current practices, athletes from the Global South are scrutinized and abusively intervened upon disproportionately and in violation of their rights to equality, dignity, and health.

In its July 2023 decision the third section of the European Court of Human Rights ruled that Switzerland had not afforded Semenya with sufficient institutional and procedural safeguards to have her complaints of discrimination effectively reviewed. The Court cited the joint brief submitted by the GHJP and the World Medical Association in finding that Switzerland’s Federal Supreme Court should have more thoroughly examined arguments concerning the side effects of medication, among others, in order for its examination to have been compatible with the requirements of the Convention. In particular, the Court cited the brief’s central observation that coercing athletes to undergo unnecessary medical interventions with the potential for serious side effects, not strictly for health-seeking reasons but rather to comply with the eligibility criteria established by the regulations, is contrary to international medical ethics standards.

In November 2023, the case was referred to the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights. GHJP and the World Medical Association submitted a revised joint submission to reaffirm how World Athletics’ eligibility regulations across versions in 2018, 2019 and 2021 created dynamics threatening the patient-physician relationship and violating medical ethics, and address how they are exacerbated by the new version (in effect as of March 2023).

In the leadup to the Grand Chamber hearing in May 2024, GHJP, in collaboration with Sexual and Reproductive Health Matter, hosted a webinar on the topic What Do Oral Contraceptives Have to Do with Human Rights Abuses in Sports? Moderated by GHJP co-director Alice M. Miller, the webinar, and a commentary in the SRHM Journal authored by the panelists, highlighted that reliance on mistaken assumptions about the effectiveness and harmlessness of oral contraceptive pills has distracted from the central harm that is associated with these regulations: that it is a coerced, medical, but not medically beneficial, bodily intervention.

Intentional Violence in Sport 

With support from the Oscar M. Reubhausen (OMR) Fund, GHJP co-Director Miller is working with Dr. Yetsa A. Tuakli-Wosornu, M.D., M.P.H., founding director of the Sports Equity Lab and an Assistant Clinical Professor at the Yale School of Public Health, as well as Andrea Carska Sheppard, J.D. and. Principal, Sports Law Solutions to provide research and analysis that will contribute to the development of meaningful steps to prevent and respond to intentional abuse of athletes, particularly in elite sports. Tuakli-Wosornu and Carska Sheppard, members of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) Prevention of Harassment and Abuse in Sport Working Group), reached out to GHJP and the Schell Center for Human Rights at YLS to help them move the global dialogue on rights, accountability and abuse in sport.

Working with an inter-disciplinary team of athlete-researchers and academics and supported in part by The Oscar M. Ruebhausen Fund, the project has identified and analyzed the unique inter-connected institutional and social and cultural practices of elite sport in the context of global distributions of power and resources which facilitate abuse. The project developed an extensive concept note on Intentional Violence in the Elite Sporting Environment, and held a virtual roundtable in December 2020 on “#MeTooSport in the Larry Nassar Era: Legal Frameworks for Preventing Intentional Violence in Sport.” The roundtable brought together athletes, academics, lawyers, activists, medical doctors, and officers from international sporting bodies to explore the range of abusive practices directed against elite athletes and to interrogate the systemic failure to prevent, respond to, and reform the policies and institutions that give rise to them. 

In 2024, building on this prior work, the project released Policy and Legal Frameworks for Preventing Interpersonal Violence in Elite Sport. This report aims to synthesize a range of issues, debates, and concerns relating to interpersonal violence in elite international sport. It interrogates the conditions that give rise to abuse, the failures of current safeguarding strategies in elite, international sports governance, and the enabling hierarchical power structures in various social, political, and cultural environments. The report also addresses what effective sports governance that prioritizes the mental, emotional, physical, and social health and safety of athletes could look like. It concludes by asking for a new analytical frame—one that looks to non-traditional spaces, within and beyond the boundaries of sport, for wisdom—to develop full and genuine understanding of the forms and devastating effects of interpersonal violence on diverse athletes and the need to create structures that appropriately deal with these harms. It advocates for education and empowerment of officials, coaches, and other leaders to build capacity within the broader sport world for action that protects athletes and promotes their wellbeing.


Sports Equity Lab in association with the Global Health Justice Partnership of the Yale Law School and the Yale School of Public Health, Schell Center for International Human Rights at Yale Law School, and Sports Law Solutions, Policy and Legal Frameworks for Preventing Interpersonal Violence in Elite Sport (2024)

Submissions on behalf of the World Medical Association and the Global Health Justice Partnership, Semenya v. Switzerland, European Court of Human Rights (Submission to Grand Chamber, Submission to Third Section)

Webinar: What Do Oral Contraceptives Have to Do with Human Rights Abuses in Sports?

Human Rights Watch, End Abusive Sex Testing for Women Athletes: Tests Violate Rights, Ruin Lives (Dec. 4, 2020)

Related Resources

A/HRC/44/26: Intersection of race and gender discrimination in sport - Report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights