By David “Dirk” Smith, M.Sc., SDL (He/Him)

Dutee Chand (B. 02/03.1996) is a professional sprinter from Odisha, India. Born to Chakradhar Chand and Arkuhi Chand, Dutee Chand’s family lived below the poverty line in her village when she was growing up. Chand has always found inspiration from her older sister who is also an athlete and has channeled that motivation into her pursuit of her own athletic goals.

In 2012, Chand made headlines when she became a national champion in the under-18 category in the 100m sprint at the Indian National Championships. She followed that accomplishment up with a bronze medal in 200m at the 2013 Asian Athletics Championships in Pune. In 2013, she also became the first Indian athlete to reach the 100m final event in a large, international championship event when she competed at the 2013 World Youth Championships. During 2013 she also enrolled into KIIT University to study law.

In June of 2014, Chand competed at the Asian Junior Athletics Championships in the 200m and 4x400m relay where she won gold in both events. In addition, her times qualified her to compete at the 2014 Commonwealth Games due to be held in Glasgow, Scotland. However, at the last minute she was dropped from the team by the Athletic Federation of India that stated she was ineligible to compete in the female division due to her hyperandrogenism. She was also ruled ineligible to compete at the 2014 Asian Games with the Indian team.

The decision to drop Chand had no prior implications of doping or cheating, and many activists criticized the decision as an affront to Chand’s privacy, dignity, and human rights. She was the first athlete with Hyperandrogenism to be affected by the new rules adopted by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) which placed restrictions on the eligibility of athletes with Hyperandrogenism to compete. Many activists questioned whether or not the decision was in line with the International Olympic Committee’s regulations regarding female hyperandrogenism which at the time were very vague and unclear. The policy and her subsequent ban was appealed at the Court Arbitration of Sport by Chand who challenged the legitimacy of the claims that naturally occurring testosterone influenced athletic performance in female athletes. Dutee Chand v. Athletics Federation of India (AFI) & The International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF). Fellow athlete and accomplished mid-distance runner, Santhi Soundarajan expressed her support for Chand.

“They have tested her at the last minute, humiliated her and broken her heart,” she told The Hindu. “All sorts of things have been written about her. Now, if she re-enters the sports field, things will not be normal. Even if she takes treatment, people will kill her with their suspicious gaze.”

Santhi felt the matter could have been dealt with discreetly. “That things became public, is wrong. Would they have done it if it was their daughter?” she asked. “Who is responsible for her future now? The job and the money are secondary problems. Think about how much she would have suffered. She is not from a wealthy or powerful family; just another ordinary family.

“Even if she gets help from the State association, can she stay in peace in her village? She will find it tough to get married.“

The CAS ruled in favor of Chand in July 2015 which suspended the ban and cleared her to compete. They ruled that the IAAF had two years to provide evidence of their claims that naturally occurring testosterone influence athletic performance in female athletes. After the initial two years, the IAAF did not provide any evidence and the court ruling ultimately stayed. The IOC also formed a new consensus to adopt new policy guidelines on athletes with Hyperandrogenism, specifically citing Chand’s case.

Following her return to competition, Chand took part in the 2016 Asian Indoor Athletics Championships where she set an Indian national record in the 60m sprint and ultimately came home with a Bronze medal. She went on to achieve a qualifying time for the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio in the 100m sprint at a meet in Almaty, Kazakhstan.

I am really happy at the moment, it has been a tough year for me and I am so happy that my coach … and my hard work has paid off. I would like to thank all the people in India who were praying for me to qualify. Your wishes have paid off.”, she exclaimed.

At the 2016 Summer Olympic Games in Rio, despite not advancing past the prelims, she became the third woman from India to participate in the 100m event at an Olympics. Since her return from Rio she has continued to compete, including the 2017 Asian Athletics Championships where she came home with 2 bronze medals. She was finally able to compete at the 2018 Asian Games where she took home a silver medal in the 100m and 200m events.

Chand has been an outspoken advocate for Caster Semenya and her ongoing fight for athletes with Hyperandrogenism to participate and compete in sports. Semenya is an 800m track athlete who also lives with Hyperandrogenism and has faced much criticism for her performance in sports. In 2018, the IAAF adopted a new rule requiring athletes with hyperandrogenism to take medication to artificially lower their testosterone levels, but the rule only applies to athletes in the 400m, 800m and 1500m events; which many people criticize for being unfairly targeted at Semenya. In an interview with The Indian Express she shared her struggles,

“These four years have been extremely tough for me. The negativity, fear of my career ending prematurely, insensitive comments about my body, I have faced them all. I am extremely relieved that I can run fearlessly again, knowing that now my battle exists only on the track and not off it,” She said. 

Chand also expressed her concern for Semenya and offered support through her legal team. In April 2019, the CAS ruled in favor of the IAAF, allowing their “Semenya Rule” to stay and thus requiring athletes with a testosterone level over 5/nmol to take medication to lower it in order to be eligible. Chand expressed her dismay in the ruling.

In May 2019; Chand shared that she is in a long-term relationship with a woman and came out as India’s first and highest profile openly gay professional athlete. In an interview with The Indian Express she shared…

“I have found someone who is my soulmate. I believe everyone should have the freedom to be with whoever they decide they want to be with. I have always supported the rights of those who want to be in a same-sex relationship. It is an individual person’s choice. Currently, my focus is on the World Championships and the Olympic Games but in the future I would like to settle down with her.”

She went on to explain that she found inspiration to come out following the repeal of a colonial era ban on same sex relationships in 2018. Despite the ruling, the cultural attitudes of same sex relationships are still prejudicial. Chand has also shared that her family does not agree with her life as an openly gay person, nor her relationship with another woman. Particularly from her older sister, whom she has previously drawn inspiration from,

My eldest sister kind of wields power and authority in my family. She has thrown out my elder brother from home because she does not like his wife. She has threatened me that same will happen to me. But I am also an adult who has individual freedom. So, I decided to go ahead with this and make it public. My eldest sister feels that my partner is interested in my property. She has told me that she will send me to jail for having this relationship,”

Despite her family’s disapproval, Chand holds firm in her convictions and plans to continue in her training and studying.

“I have always believed that everyone should have the freedom to love. There is no greater emotion than love and it should not be denied. The Supreme Court of India has also struck down the old law. I believe nobody has the right to judge me as an athlete because of my decision to be with who I want. It is a personal decision, which should be respected. I will continue to strive to win medals for India at international meets,” Dutee said.

Chand recently competed at the Summer Olympics in Tokyo but unfortunately did not move onto the semi-finals in either the 100m or 200m, regardless she still posted season best times and her performance still has her ranked as one of the best sprinters in India.

Photo via Wikimedia Commons