Today the Olympic torch will be passing by the University (scheduled to pass the Main Gate at 6pm!) and to celebrate this we have looked through the archive for collections with an Olympic theme.
We hold the papers of geneticist Malcolm Ferguson-Smith and these include a series of correspondence, documents and articles concerning his work on gender verification in sport.
Ferguson-Smith is a celebrated geneticist whose work on gene mapping has helped shaped our understanding of human evolution. Ferguson-Smith graduated from the University with 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.
The collection related to his work on gender verification in sport includes correspondence with the British Olympic Committee about tests for the competitors in the 1970 Edinburgh Commonwealth Games. Most of the files relate to his service on the International Amateur Athletic Federation’s (IAAF) Working group on Gender Verification during 1991-1999.
In 1960, the IAAF called for rules of eligibility for women to ensure the athletes were competing on an equal basis. 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 correspondence charts the progress of tests that determined the sex of the athlete and the controversy that surrounded them.
The Working Group of the IAAC that Ferguson-Smith served on included Professor Arne Ljungqvist, Dr Elizabeth A Ferris, Alison S Carlson and Professor Joe Leigh Simpson. They became known as “the fax club” due to their method of communication and, as a result, the collection contains many of the faxes that passed between them. In the end they were successful and their recommendations for a call to end genetics-based gender verification and replace it with a health test for all athletes was accepted by the International Amateur Athletic Federation in January 1991.
For more information about Ferguson-Smith and his collection, see the on-line catalogue.
Malcolm Ferguson-Smith’s papers are presently being digitised by the University of Glasgow’s digitisation suite as part of the Wellcome Digital Library project Modern Genetics and its Foundations. The papers of three influential Glasgow geneticists have been selected for digitisation as part of the pilot project: Guido Pontecorvo (1907-1999), James (Jim) Harrison Renwick (1926-1994), and Malcolm Andrew Ferguson-Smith (1931-). You can find out more about this project via their blog-posts.
Watch this space for more sports themed blog posts over the Olympic period!
Categories: Archive Services (GUAS)
Tags: British Olympic Committee, Commonwealth Games, Ferguson-Smith, gender verification, geneticist, genetics, Malcolm Amdrew Ferguson-Smith, Olympic Torch, Olympics, Professor of Medical Genetics, sport, University of Glasgow