Thursday, August 20, 2009

Gender and sports

I was wondering what I was going to write about today, because I was fresh out of ideas and energy, thanks to a bizarre work schedule this week. And then I came across this story about questions concerning the gender of a competitor in the IAAF World Championship in Athletics in Berlin, Germany.

Actually, I don't follow sports all that much, and were it not for my friend Kerstin in Meiningen, Germany, I wouldn't have even known that this competition was happening.

Anyway, the story about Caster Semenya, an 18-year-old South African who won the gold medal in the 800-meter race Wednesday, made me cringe for two reasons. First, the basis for the allegation that she might really be male seems to be an almost knee-jerk reaction: if a woman performs in a spectacular fashion, perhaps she is not really a woman, particularly if she has more muscle than the average woman. And second, if the allegation is true, then sports have been further diminished by yet another episode of cheating. Either way, it would seem to be a black eye for sports.

But the issue might not be as clear-cut as it appears at first glance. The story quotes IAAF spokesman Nick Davies as saying that it is a "medical issue, not an issue of cheating," and that "extremely complex" testing is under way. I can only imagine where this may be going, and if it's going where I think it might be, I feel for Caster Semenya.

It brings to mind the controversy that surrounded the late Babe Didrikson, one of the greatest female American athletes of all time, who was plagued by questions about her "femininity." Or, more recently, the controversy surrounding Sarah Gronert, a 22-year-old German whose presence on the women's tennis tour has sparked controversy.

I don't know what more to say other than that I hope Semenya keeps her medal, and that she and the sports world can move on.

By the way, I apologize for using news links that included some vile comments by readers. But such ignorance, sadly, is a big part of these types of stories.


  1. People really need to learn to live and let live.

  2. BG: Doesn't seem like it should be that hard to do, does it?