Review of Testing for Athlete Citizenship

Henne, Kathryn E. Testing for Athlete Citizenship: Regulating Doping and Sex in Sport. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2015. Appendix, notes, bibliography, and index. $90 clothback. $28.95 paperback, web PDF, and epub.

Reviewed by Cat Ariail

In my last blog post, I used the story of Carlota Gooden to introduce the possibility of athletic citizenship. I conceived of athletic citizenship as the expanded rights and opportunities gained by excellent athletes, particularly through winning performances in regional sport festivals, in relationship to the nation-state. In Testing for Athlete Citizenship: Regulating Doping and Sex in Sport, Kathyrn Henne, a former elite-level athlete turned academic, theorizes globalized athlete citizenship. Her intriguing concept certainly will inform my future considerations of how sport interacts with normative citizenship.

Henne presents athlete citizenship as a transnational caste that expresses both the bodily and moral superiority demanded of athletes in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. She uses the development and implementation of drug testing policies by the IOC, and later WADA, to illustrate how athletes are treated as a distinct class of citizens. Although drug testing relies on science and innovation to police athletes’ bodies, Henne demonstrates that drug testing represents a “moral crusade” that serves as a reformulated strategy for enforcing the tenets of Olympism advanced by Pierre de Coubertin at the turn of the twentieth century. Thus, contemporary drug testing privileges athletes whose identities most conform to the athlete ideal envisioned by de Coubertin – upper-middle class western white males.


Rutgers University Press, 2015

As such, drug testing creates athlete citizenship inequities for female, non-white, non-western, and socioeconomically disadvantaged athletes that resemble broader citizenship inequities and, therefore, can inform our understanding of the persistence of unjust treatment and unequal valuation of certain populations. In her introduction, Henne proclaims, “The premise of this book begins with the connection that sport, as a social field, articulates messages not simply about ethics, but broader beliefs about embodiment, physical ability, and human difference” (pg. 2). Through her historically-grounded ethnographic study, Henne incisively illuminates the evolution of the significant physical and moral expectations, with all their contradictions and biases, contemporary athletes must embody in order to be considered athlete citizens.

Henne organizes her work into six chapters, with three chapters outlining the development of the international anti-doping regime followed by chapters on sex-testing, New Zealand’s drug policies, and a conclusion. Henne thoroughly establishes the theoretical premises of her study in her introduction. She introduces how the idea of “fair play” functions in enforcing the boundaries of athlete citizenship. She focuses on the “spirit of sport” clause in international anti-doping rules, which can result in an athlete receiving penalization not for using a banned substance but for using a legal substance with presumed ill intentions. According to Henne, enforcing “fair play” assumes the possibility of a “level playing field,” even though global inequalities make such an ideal impossible. Drug testing displaces nations’ and institutions’ implication in the global inequalities that preclude “fair play” and a “level playing field” by instead holding individual athletes and their bodies responsible. Thus, anti-doping organizations and regulations communicate the individualistic values of neoliberalism.

Furthermore, because of the international dimension of drug testing, the athletic bodies deemed un-pure by drug tests serve a global symbols of deviance that police the boundaries of athlete citizenship. Through these concepts and others, Henne illuminates how moral presumptions combine with scientific technologies to position drug testing as the supposedly objective arbiter of athlete citizenship. Crucially, she closes her introductory chapter by discussing her scholarly positioning, admitting that her history as an athlete not only inspired her research, but also inclined her to be “skeptical of platforms concerned with protecting fair play” (pg. 22). While her athlete-researcher identity could rub some the wrong way, her reliance of archival research at the Olympic Studies Centre, secondary historical, sociological, and theoretical works by respected scholars in sport studies and beyond, and ethnographic observation and interviews positions her work as a product of thorough research and analysis, not the presuppositions of former athlete.

In her next two chapters, Henne further articulates on the rhetoric, policies, and tactics of anti-doping organizations, specifically attending to how their strategies have embedded traditional, cultural conceptions of fair play and athlete deviance into scientifically-legitimated policies and practices. Henne states, “The regulation of doping in sport demonstrates the convergence between the cultures of science and the cultural beliefs justifying science’s intervention” (pg. 29). In particular, she focuses on the evolution of the rationale for anti-doping regulations by the IOC, which began testing for drug use in 1968. While Avery Brundage remained ambivalent about drug testing during his tenure as IOC president (1952-1972), his successor, Lord Killian, enthusiastically embraced doping as a problem deserving penalization. His attitude lead to the IOC Medical Commission implementing an evermore-aggressive drug use surveillance network.

This development coincided with a shifting understanding of the moral implications of doping. Whereas doping athletes first had received condemnation for cheating and thereby committing a crime against their competitors, the arrival of androgenic anabolic steroids in the early 1970s encouraged Killian and the IOC Medical Commission to view doped athletes as unnatural, deviant criminals who had attempted to “play God.” Henne traces the escalating stakes of drug testing efforts from the early 1970s and into the twenty-first century. Her discussion of Ben Johnson’s positive test at the 1988 Seoul Games serves as an insightful episode for illustrating how anti-doping policies enforced the boundaries of athlete citizenship by transforming Johnson from a Canadian hero into a racial foreigner who symbolized the Other. Curiously, Henne does not discuss the 1984 Olympic in her chronological trajectory, an omission that proves puzzling since popular opinion suggests these Games marked the arrival of aggressive performance enhancing drug use by the United States.

In chapter three, Henne delineates WADA’s role in the international anti-doping effort. Established in 1999, WADA is the contemporary gatekeeper of athletic citizenship. Yet, Henne’s explication suggests WADA seeded the ills it proclaims to combat. By heightening the implications of doping in sport, the agency expanded the legal, biomedical, and neoliberal dimensions of anti-doping regulation. Positioning doping as a pervasive moral panic, WADA worked to frame the use of performance enhancing drugs as a legally-enforceable crime and then position itself as the foremost authority for combatting this crime. Henne demonstrates the paradoxical character of WADA’s effort both to justify its existence and prove its effectiveness. She notes, “Ironically, the pursuit of one can undermine the other: that is, if WADA is too effective, it may not longer be see as necessary; however, if WADA appears incompetent, some may call for its abolishment or replacement” (pg. 69). This contradictory scenario captures both the vastness and vacuousness of the doping surveillance state established by WADA. Henne concludes this chapter by discussing the racial and post-colonial implications of WADA’s policy. She suggests that the suspicion of drug uses by black athletes in the U.S. reflects racial anxieties about their status most visible representatives of athletic excellence, while the coercion of Third World nations to accept First World-derived anti-doping policies re-enacts post-colonial inequalities.

In chapter four, Henne explores the gendered character of athlete citizenship by focusing on how gender verification testing of female athletes also contributes to the hierarchy of athlete citizens. While she focuses on the well-known case of South African middle-distance runner Caster Semenya, her specific analytical explications of gender verification provide a context that insightfully illuminates the absurd inequities faced by Semenya and other female athletes who supposedly have transgressed sex and gender norms. Implemented the same year as drug testing, gender verification testing also aimed to preserve fairness in competition. But Henne recognizes the contradictoriness of verifying sex to preserve fairness. Rather than ensuring that an athlete does not gain artificial advantages, gender verification potentially punishes a female athlete whose natural athletic talent exceeds the expected ability of a woman, thus positioning her as “unnatural.” Henne extends the implication of an “unnatural” female athlete beyond sport, asserting, “[g]ender verification provides an example of how the objective of protecting fair play couples with other forms of social control aimed at feminine bodies.” Continuing, she suggests that, “female athletes characterized as gender frauds do significant symbolic work in both challenging and preserving normative worldviews” (pg. 89).

Gender verification thus sought to rationalize female athletic superiority. Yet, despite the desires of the IOC Medical Commission, scientifically testing for gender did not clarify sex binaries, instead imprecision and arbitrariness characterized efforts. Since the IOC Medical Commission could not clearly prove if a woman was a gender fraud, the organization adopted a selectivity approach that used a woman’s appearance, both her musculature and genitals, to attempt to determine if she was “female enough” to compete against women. As with her previous chapters, Henne asserts the racialized and nationalist implications of gender verification, noting that “racialized bodies have come to fill the vacancy left by East German and Soviet Women” in serving as the Others positioned against implicitly white, first-world female athletic purity.

In her fifth chapter, Henne presents a case study of New Zealand’s drug testing regime. In particular, she demonstrates how “dilemmas of national citizenship coalesce and merge with the aforementioned concerned of athlete citizenship” (pg. 115). Henne begins by describing Pure Playing Field Nation (PPFN), a campaign sponsored by the organization that governs anti-doping, Drug Free Sport New Zealand (DFSNZ). Recalling her assertions about female athletic purity, Henne focuses on the deployment of the word “pure” to define the boundaries of New Zealand’s athletic citizenry. She connects athletic purity to ideal Kiwi nationalism, suggesting they together reinforce Western values. She then further explores the implications of sport, nationalism, and race. For example, borrowing from the postulations of Brendan Hokowithu, Henne asserts that the nation practices “positive racism” toward Maori athletes by celebrating their difference in a way that reinforces their supposed primitivism and divergence from western norms.

After delineating the anti-doping actions of DFSNZ, Henne valuably includes the voices of athletes. Her interview excerpts illustrate the ways an athlete’s racial and gender identities determine his/her opinions about drug testing. Yet, Henne recognizes that anti-doping regulation forces all athletes to become more self-conscious, noting that they “turned their gaze onto themselves” as “their narratives [of anti-doping experiences] prioritized their fears and anxieties about regulation” (pg. 136). The opinions of athletes cohere with Henne’s depiction of globalized anti-doping regulation as a neoliberalism system that emphasizes individual over structural faults. Henne closes by discussing the policing of marijuana use, which is primarily used by Maori male athletes. She notes that recreational drug use has resulted in harsher punishment than performance enhancing drug use, even though cannabis is a natural substance that seemingly does not violate the terms of “fair play” by producing an unnatural advantage. Henne then authoritatively declares, “DFNZ’s tactics are thus not a maneuver to protect fair play; instead, they are technologies imbued with cultural preferences” (pg. 143). This statement, which recognizes policies as technologies, appropriately captures how, in globalized anti-doping regime that expanded due to scientific technology, the cultural technologies of words and values serve as the strongest weapons for policing the boundaries of athlete citizenship.

Hene concludes her work by primarily reiterating and summarizing her main arguments. Notably, she also poses interesting questions that begin to sketch anti-doping alternatives. She emphasizes the need to “instill trust between athletes and authorities,” suggesting that providing athletes with more information about the doping policies “without the fear of punishment or coercion, could make meaningful impacts on the everyday experiences of elite athletes” (pg. 164). Rather than the punitive surveillance state that it has become, Henne envisions anti-doping as a cooperative effort. In addition to reforms that would require athletic institutions to encourage the well-being of athletes, she desires a more sympathetic system that accounts for the differential positionings of the global population of athletes. Her questions and comments about alternative anti-doping polices thus coheres with her larger arguments, as her propositions aim to rectify the racialized, gendered, and post-colonial inequities of the current regime.

Besides her curious silence surrounding the 1984 Olympic Games, I have no criticisms of Henne’s work. Due to the ways it trumpeted American nationalism and capitalism, the 1984 Games seem like a case study that could have provocatively enhanced Henne’s assertions about the ways athlete citizenship reflects how capitalized sport reproduces global racial and post-colonial inequalities. Nevertheless, the precise examples and through explanations she includes convincingly support her theorization of athlete citizenship. Her concept deserves thoughtful consideration by all scholars of sport. Even though anti-doping regulation and gender verification testing were not implemented until the late 1960s, the ways in which Henne demonstrates how the definition of athlete citizenship these practices circumscribed embedded older notions of ideal athleticism suggest her conceptualization of athletes as specific caste of citizens could intriguingly influence scholars of sport studying a range of time periods.

Cat Ariail is a PhD student in the Department of History at the University of Miami. She researches women’s sport and race in the late-twentieth century Americas. You can contact her at

2 thoughts on “Review of Testing for Athlete Citizenship

  1. Pingback: Review of Sport Philosophy Now | Sport in American History

  2. Pingback: Roundtable Reflections on the Rio Olympics, Part 1 | Sport in American History

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