LONDON - The International Olympic Committee will convene a special conference of medical experts to draw up guidelines for dealing with "ambiguous" gender cases in the wake of South African runner Caster Semenya's sex test controversy.
IOC medical commission chairman Arne Ljungqvist told The Associated Press on Tuesday that his panel will organize a symposium in Florida in January to look at gender issues and advise sports bodies how to respond.
"Sometimes you come across cases that are uncertain and ambiguous, and it changes from being a sports matter to a medical matter," Ljungqvist said. "That's where we need to have a review."
The move comes amid intense international scrutiny on Semenya, the 18-year-old athlete who won the women's 800 metres at the world championships in Berlin in August.
The International Association of Athletics Federations is reviewing gender test results to determine whether Semenya is eligible to compete as a woman. The IAAF has refused to confirm or deny Australian media reports that the tests indicate Semenya has both male and female sex organs.
Ljungqvist said the IOC would have reviewed gender issues in any case, as 10 years have passed since the committee did away with mandatory gender testing at the Olympics. But he said the Semenya case has pushed the IOC to move now.
"When the Semenya case came up with all the publicity around her, and her integrity was violated, we felt perhaps it is time to review and make clearer guidelines of what to do in those ambiguous cases," the Swedish official said in a telephone interview. "The timing is appropriate."
The IOC will seek common scientific ground on "intersex" cases, where a person has ambiguous sexual characteristics. This can mean getting the athlete to receive medical treatment, including possible hormone therapy.
"Our intention is to look at the state-of-the-art science and see what we should recommend to sport when it comes to cases like that," Ljungqvist said. "The general recommendation is obvious - they should be treated as medical cases in compliance with up-to-date procedures. But we have to be more specific in telling the sports people what that actually means and what they should do."
Ljungqvist said the IOC, IAAF and other sports bodies have faced similar cases before, but they have been kept secret in line with medical confidentiality. The Semenya case, on the other hand, has been played out in public after news leaked out during the Berlin championships that she had been ordered to undergo testing.
"It's highly unfortunate," Ljungqvist said. "These cases should be confidential. They are private matters and should not be displayed openly. The one who suffers is the person and the person has done nothing wrong. This may be part of our discussion - how to avoid this type of public knowledge."
The IOC used to carry out mandatory gender exams at the Olympics, but they were dropped before the 2000 Sydney Games because the screening process - chromosome testing - was deemed unscientific and unethical. The IOC now has a special medical panel on site at the Games that can intervene if necessary.
The IOC symposium - to be attended by 10-15 scientists and sports federation doctors - will take place in conjunction with the 2nd World Conference on Hormonal and Genetic Basis of Sexual Differentiation Disorders, from Jan. 15-17 in Miami Beach.
The meeting will be funded by the IOC with possible assistance from the IAAF, Ljungqvist said.