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On Loland’s conception of fair equality of opportunity in sport
  1. Lynley C Anderson,
  2. Taryn Rebecca Knox
  1. Bioethics Centre, University of Otago, Dunedin, New Zealand
  1. Correspondence to Dr Lynley C Anderson, Bioethics Centre, University of Otago, Dunedin 9016, New Zealand; lynley.anderson{at}

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In his latest paper, Loland1 tackles the question of whether athletes with differences of sexual development (DSD) may compete in the women’s division. The topic is one of the most complex in sport and, as such, is fraught with debate. On one hand, the higher testosterone levels of athletes with DSD means they have an unfair performance advantage over their female competitors. On the other hand, it is argued that women with DSD should be able to compete in the gender division with which they identify, especially as many will have been raised with a clear gender identity.

Loland uses the Rawlsian notion of ‘fair equality of opportunity’ (FEO) in which individuals with similar talents and ambitions should have roughly equivalent prospects for competitive success. For example, in most situations in society, one’s age, biological sex, ethnic and religious background, colour of skin, or sexual orientation are irrelevant to whether an individual should be given a job or is eligible for social welfare. In addition to being irrelevant, these factors are also stable—they are inequalities that ‘individuals cannot control or impact in any significant way’.1 However, Loland recognises that some stable inequalities, such as biological sex and body size, are relevant to FEO in sport. For example, a featherweight boxer may have similar talents and …

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  • Contributors Both authors contributed equally to this commentary.

  • Funding The authors have not declared a specific grant for this research from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Patient consent for publication Not required.

  • Provenance and peer review Commissioned; internally peer reviewed.

  • A second problem, according to Loland, is that they do not respect the athletes’ privacy. However, as this algorithm is applied to all athletes (not just those athletes who do not neatly fit into the categories of male and female), this intrusion of privacy may be acceptable. The acceptability is bolstered by the fact that many inequalities, such as VO2max and haemoglobin levels, are already documented in an athletes ‘biological passport’.

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