Material relating to gender verification in sport

UGC 188/8
Part of:
Papers of Malcolm Andrew Ferguson-Smith, geneticist, Professor of Medical Genetics, University of Glasgow, Scotland
  • Archives and manuscripts

Collection contents

About this work


Includes correspondence with the British Olympic Committee about tests for the competitors for the 1970 Edinburgh Commonwealth Games, but the bulk relates to his service on the International Amateur Athletic Federation's Working Group on Gender Verification, 1991-1999. The material includes correspondence (including many faxes) with members of the Working Group and others, briefing documents, drafts of articles for publication and background information.

This description is part of the main Malcolm Andrew Ferguson-Smith collection which has been divided into the following sections, each with its own separate description:

  • UGC 188/1, biographical material
  • UGC 188/2, medical genetics material
  • UGC 188/3, correspondence
  • UGC 188/4, publications
  • UGC 188/5, lectures and meetings
  • UGC 188/6, societies and organisations
  • UGC 188/7, consultancies and collaborations
  • UGC 188/8, gender verification in sport
  • UGC 188/9, Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE)
  • UGC 188/10, non-textual material
  • A digitised copy is held by the Wellcome Library as part of Codebreakers: Makers of Modern Genetics. Items restricted in accordance with Data Protection legislation have not been digitised. Items not digitised may be viewed in the searchroom at Archive Services, University of Glasgow. Please visit the Glasgow University Archive Services website or see the complete catalogue for full details.



    Physical description

    41 folders


    Files are arranged in chronological order.

    Biographical note

    Malcolm Andrew Ferguson-Smith (1931- ) is a celebrated geneticist whose work on gene mapping has shaped our understanding of human evolution. Ferguson-Smith graduated MB, ChB in 1955 and was appointed a lecturer in Medical Genetics at the University in 1961. He was promoted to Senior Lecturer in 1965, a Reader in 1971, and Professor of Medical Genetics in 1973. He was also Honorary Consultant in Medical Paediatrics at the Royal Hospital for Sick Children from 1966 and in Clinical Genetics at Yorkhill and Associated Hospitals from 1973 to 1987. In 1987, Ferguson-Smith left Glasgow to become Professor of Pathology and Professorial Fellow at Peterhouse College, Cambridge. He was also Director of the Cambridge University Centre for Medical Genetics from 1989. For a complete biography see the Malcolm Andrew Ferguson-Smith collectiondescription.

    In 1960 the International Amateur Athletic Federation (IAAF), followed by the International Olympic Committee (IOC), called for rules of eligibility for women to ensure athletics were competing on an equal basis in terms of physical status. In 1966 a physical test was introduced for the European and Commonwealth games, repeated at the 1967 Pan-American games. This led to widespread resentment and the IOC proposed the sex chromatin test as a more acceptable method. Sex chromatin testing using buccal smears was introduced in 1968 for the Mexico Olympic Games that year. Ferguson-Smith was approached by the British Olympic Committee in 1969 to administer the tests for competitors for the 1970 Edinburgh Commonwealth Games. He declined, arguing that the sex chromatin (buccal smear) test would be more likely to unfairly exclude athletes than detect cheats. His view was that all sex-testing in international sport should be abolished as demeaning to women, unreliable and in a few cases positively psychologically harmful.

    The buccal smear test was challenged again in the 1980s and in 1988 the IOC Medical Commission set up a Working Group on Gender Verification. It held a meeting in 1988 but its second meeting, scheduled for 1989, was cancelled. In November 1990 a workshop called by the International Athletics Foundation on Approved Methods of Femininity Verification was held at Monte Carlo. Its recommendations included a call to end genetics-based gender verification and replace it with a health test for all athletes. The International Amateur Athletic Federation adopted its recommendations in January 1991 and the IAAF set up a Working Group on Gender Verification comprising some of the participants in the earlier workshop.

    Ferguson-Smith served on this Working Group, which became known to its members as "the fax club" after the usual method of communication between members. Members included Professor Arne Ljungqvist (Chairman of the Medical Committee of the IAAF), Dr Elizabeth A Ferris (a sports physician), Alison S Carlson (a former athlete) and Professor Joe Leigh Simpson. It published articles and lobbied the IOC and professional associations and medical societies. It met with gradual success until in 1999 the IOC abandoned genetics based testing for the Sydney Olympics.

    Copyright note

    Applications for permission to quote should be sent to: Duty Archivist, Archive Services, University of Glasgow, 13 Thurso Street, Glasgow, G11 6PE, or email

    Terms of use

    Some of the material in this collection is restricted in accordance with Data Protection legislation.


    Location of duplicates

    A digitised copy is held by the Wellcome Library as part of Codebreakers: Makers of Modern Genetics. Material restricted in accordance with Data Protection legislation has not been digitised.

    Where to find it

    Location of original

    The original material is held at Glasgow University Archive Services. This catalogue is held by the Wellcome Library as part of Codebreakers: Makers of Modern Genetics.

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