Athlete Santhi Soundarajan may file human rights case, as AFI, IOA wash hands of medal issue

Ten years after ‘failing’ a gender test, the athlete is yet to receive her test report.
Athlete Santhi Soundarajan may file human rights case, as AFI, IOA wash hands of medal issue
Athlete Santhi Soundarajan may file human rights case, as AFI, IOA wash hands of medal issue
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Stripped of her silver medal and her dignity at the Asian Games in Doha in 2006 for failing a gender test, athlete Santhi Soundarajan is expected to file a case of human rights violation against the Athletics Federation of India (AFI) and the Indian Olympic Association (IOA). This after the Sports Ministry waived off its responsibility for restoring her medal.

In its reply to the National Commission for Scheduled Castes (NCSC), the Sports Ministry stated, “…it is for the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the Olympic Council of Asia (OCA) to take the decision in the matter.   However, legal advice will be sought on the matter and action will be taken accordingly.” The reply dated December 13, comes nine months after Santhi wrote to the NCSC saying she was subject to a “humiliating and unscientific” gender test.

“How can an Indian citizen be kept half nude for a half day in a foreign land? What were the steps and measures taken by AFI and IOA to protect her human rights? How can they now say this doesn’t pertain to us and project as if the power of the government is limited. Santhi is a citizen of India irrespective of her gender. Anyone will say this is a human rights violation,” said Gopi Shankar, an activist who works closely with Santhi.  

The reply from the Sports Ministry is the first official communication Santhi Soundarajan has received from the government in a decade, claimed Gopi. After failing the gender test in 2006, Santhi was not only stripped of her Asian Games silver medal but was banned from participating in athletic events and had all her achievements struck off the records. But more than ten years later, what’s shocking is that the athlete from Tamil Nadu, is yet to receive a copy of the test report.

Gopi said that he and Santhi had filed two RTIs in March 2016 – one seeking information on her gender test report, and the other demanding details of the person under whose authority she was barred from participating in athletic events. However, he said, Santhi had received little information on the decision that killed her sporting career.

“Two RTIs were filed, one by me and one by Santhi. The reply I received stated that AFI didn’t bar Santhi from competing in events, while the response she received stated that she hadn’t appeared for an enquiry and her request could not proceed further. We received two different replies for one question” said Gopi.  

The activist also compared Santhi’s case to Indian sprinter Dutee Chand, who had been banned in 2014, after failing a gender test. In Dutee’s case, the highest court in sport – the Court of Arbitration for Sport – suspended the International Association of Athletics’ Federation’s (IAAF) rules on hyperandrogenism for two years, stating that there no scientific evidence to prove that women athletes with excessive testosterone levels had a competitive advantage.

“Dutee’s case happened within India, we knew AFI did the gender test. Indian authorities fully cooperated so she was able to get papers in her hand. It also happened at the social media era, and Dutee was able to get the backing of thousands of Indians. But in Santhi’s case she was unable to do anything. She did not have enough documents and has never even seen her gender test report,” pointed out Gopi.

While the fight to reclaim Santhi’s Asian Games medal will continue, Gopi notes that the IAAF’s rules on hyperandrogenism are “deeply discriminatory” with no basis in empirical evidence, adding, “There are many women athletes who have quit after Santhi was stripped off her medal.  Yesterday it was Santhi, today it is Dutee and tomorrow it can be anyone else.”

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